Like all good prefaces, written after the event
The following post began quite late on Friday night; I was still typing when I noted it was now Saturday morning! I cut the story short before I had really reached the syllabus changes of the 1990s. That was when the NSW Board of Studies rewrote the previous HSC Syllabus — a friend of mine was involved in the rewriting; the Syllabus had not really been rewritten — just tweaked — since the mid 1960s. Part of the brief then was to incorporate recent trends in English and Media Studies. (These trends are well summarised in Rob Pope, The English Studies Book, Routledge 2ed 2006.) A second part of their brief was to make senior English more rigorous and more demanding; despite what many think I believe they succeeded in that only too well. I still think the syllabus is too ambitious. In practice the more “exotic” aspects of the course have been downplayed, even at the level of recent HSC questions, so that the differences between old and new HSC have greatly reduced; Leavis in fact has returned in large measure, even if the notion of “text” expanding to “anything which makes meaning” has allowed for a wider range of objects for study than used to be the case. At the same time the classics really are well represented, especially in the Advanced and Extension courses.
The main difference has been the shift to criterion-referenced assessment. That is a whole other issue. See Worried about outcomes based education? [UPDATE: There are some legitimate concerns about that in the teaching and assessment of writing: see Legitimate concerns about writing rubrics.]
Keep in mind that I have thoroughly told the story up to 1998 in Literacy on the English/ESL blog. If there had been a golden age of English teaching some time back fifty or sixty years I can assure you I would know about it, because as either student or teacher I WAS THERE! There was no such golden age.
Big claim? Yes it is, and it is also true.
I have come to this conclusion after reading Shelley Gare’s often entertaining Triumph of the Airheads (Sydney, Park Street Press, 2006) — especially Chapter 7, “How to Educate a Goldfish”, which purports to explain the decline of education at all levels in Australia since the 1960s. In that respect it parallels Kevin Donnelly’s work.
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