Discipline and subject: Academic literary studies and school English in Australia since 1945
Required Reading: Literature in Australian Schools since 1945
Monash University Publishing
School of Education
Teachers and syllabus writers have always had to balance the requirement that students read and write well with the very different demands of engaging with literature and other cultural texts – demands for skills in critical thinking, formal or rhetorical analysis, and social, cultural and literary history. The aim of this chapter is to lay the groundwork for what follows by discussing some of the key interactions between the academic discipline of literary studies and senior-secondary subject English in Australia and elsewhere since 1945. The profound institutional investment in English as the subject for the ethical formation of individuals in Australia goes back at least to the middle decades of the twentieth century, when students were taught to apply techniques of close reading not only to literature but to popular culture and everyday life. This chapter thus ventures back into the dangerous waters of the canon debates and the classroom. We consider how questions of canonicity shape and respond to conditions experienced in schools. As John Guillory observes, “it is only by understanding the social function and institutional protocols of the school that we will understand how works are preserved, reproduced and disseminated over successive generations and centuries” (Cultural vii).
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