Would Brecht's play about Gallileo offend the Catholic Church? Should that be a consideration when choosing VCE English texts? Of course not! But could it be now? I agree with the author of this piece that the Minister should stay out of this. It should be left to the professionals otherwise our students will not have their ideas challenged or their critical thinking skills sharpened by provocative literature reflecting our diverse community. It also runs the risk of entrenching mediocrity. We don't want to go down the path of US schools that ban texts from the it schools.( visit Google and check out some of the books and plays that have been banned and continue to be banned!)
On Thursday, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino ordered the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) to review its text selection process for VCE English, literature, drama and theatre studies.
According to Timna Jacks (The Age, 26/5) the minister wanted to "ensure" the guidelines used for text selection would consider "the views and sensitivities of cultural and religious groups". The review follows criticism by two Jewish groups of the inclusion of a play on the VCE drama list, Tales of a City by the Sea, which depicts life during war in Gaza, and was written by Palestinian playwright Samah Sabawi.
To suggest that guidelines regulate the compiling of these lists should not offend any group in society is significantly problematic. I can't think of any text that does not have the potential to offend at least someone in our wonderfully diverse community.
The emphasis needs to be on how these texts are taught, the growth of our students' knowledge of the world and the ways in which we negotiate different ideas and perspectives. I'm sure the minister would want to support the development of intelligent interrogation of ideas in our young people.
I am not suggesting that the guidelines for text selection are somehow sacrosanct and should not be questioned. The VCAA, the body responsible for the collation of the text lists for what 17- and 18-year-old students may study in their final year of their VCE studies, should (and do) regularly revisits what is appropriate as cultural norms shift.
Current text lists are put together by a panel of educators who are expert-teachers in the subject. These are professionals who understand not only the curriculum, but also the diverse needs and capacities of the young people in our schools.
By Monika Wagner is President of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English
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