Monday, April 27, 2009

Teaching Poetry in the Qld School system

The image I have is from a zombie movie; the poems reduced to the infected undead. massing in the murk, they lurch forward, driven across the foggy graveyard by mindless appetite and the insatiable desire to destroy and infect every unprotected reader. So we are SUPPOSED to huddle in our bunkers, preaching literature’s version of totally safe sex: don’t touch the poem until you are wrapped tightly in the protective clothing of resistant methodology, smug ideological superiority and can spot a suspected infection at twenty paces and know how to destroy the poem before it has a chance to…..


Who knows.

I have the suspicion that most of the people teaching poetry in schools don’t read it. Don’t care for it and are quite happy to trash it because it’s far too difficult.

And I think anything that defines awe as childlike and something to be guarded against is such a small minded, weary, suspicious way of looking the world.

How did Saint Augustine get hold of the QSA syllabi?


George S said...

Just visiting yours, Liam.

Interesting post this, but I wish you would say more as I am not sure who and at what level and when you mean.

I suspect that we may be agreeing about something regarding the treatment of poetry in a) schools, and maybe b) in literary theory, but am not sure.

Liam Guilar said...

Here's the context, a bit long winded but hopefully it will explain matters:

In Qld schools years 11 and 12 are what used to be called “post compulsory”..a bit like the English sixth form. Except we now have a policy that says that under 18 you have to be either “learning or earning” so our retention rates to senior are very high. “English” is a compulsory subject in years 11 and 12 but in Qld we only have one syllabus and there is no option to study “literature’ as a two year course. So poetry and novels and adverts and films and the news paper are all folded into the one subject. So a “unit” of work might be effectively six weeks of class time. But your unit on “Representations of Australia” in contemporary films will be followed by a unit on the media then perhaps a unit based round a novel followed by one on poetry. And Shakespeare somewhere in there.

In the English Teacher’s Association of Queensland’s journal Words’Worth for December 2008 there is the following proposed task for grade eleven students: It is only a proposed task and I suspect most practising English teachers will see all the reasons why it’s not a good one, but it epitomises the approach we’re supposed to be using.

The sample task is to be completed in two hours in 500-600 words and the poem to be analyzed is unseen prior to the test.(The sample task is taken from page 22 Words’Worth 2008 Volume 41 number 4). The syllabus asks us to establish “life like or realistic or real life” contexts for our assignments so the preamble is someone’s idea of Life Like. (and given the article’s selection of poems in part B the chances of any “global Poetry” being used is almost non-existent)

“A new poetry anthology, Global Voices, is being published to promote the study of world poetry in Australian schools, and will contain written commentaries by students on poems selected for inclusion. The editors believe that poems engage readers on an emotional as well as an intellectual level, and that the commentaries will be an interesting reflection on the thoughts and feelings of young people from a range of cultural backgrounds.

As a contemporary Young Australian , write an in-depth commentary on one of the appended poems for the anthology Global Voices:

You will need to discuss such aspects as
The content (the “what”) of a poem, that is:
The discourses (perhaps competing) represented in it
The attitudes, values and beliefs driving these discourses
The cultural assumptions which underpin subject matter
And how these inform what the poem is valuing and encouraging readers to think and believe.
The form (the how) of the poem , explaining the use and effect of such aspects as …..(There follows a standard list of technical features for consideration)
In positioning readers, and whether or not you are prepared to accept the invited reading of the text(the way the text ” asks” to be read”).