Article

Teacher-researchers: a pilot project for unsettling the secondary Australian literary canon

Abstract

Despite ongoing attempts to disrupt the white cis-hetero-masculine nature of the literary canon the secondary school English curriculum remains tethered to its lineage. In conversation with feminist new materialist scholars who argue that the stories we read and write have material affects on who we are becoming, this paper argues that in order to mobilise change in the secondary years of schooling, interventions into the canon must move beyond (re)forming text lists or providing teachers with readymade pedagogical resources. Drawing on the Australian context, the authors outline some of the contemporary challenges teachers face in diversifying and decolonising the curriculum. Drawing on their Literary Linking Methodology the authors discuss a pilot project that seeks to unsettle the canon by supporting teachers to undertake extended immersion with both contemporary literary texts and archival research. Accordingly, this paper contributes to understandings of the tensions and challenges teachers face in introducing contemporary Australian texts into the curriculum and offers insights into the ways in which professional learning might be (re)imagined so that English teachers might draw on available cultural resources as researchers and literary knowledge producers in the twenty-first century.
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Gender and Education
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Teacher-researchers: a pilot project for unsettling
the secondary Australian literary canon
Larissa McLean Davies, Sarah E. Truman & Lucy Buzacott
To cite this article: Larissa McLean Davies, Sarah E. Truman & Lucy Buzacott (2020): Teacher-
researchers: a pilot project for unsettling the secondary Australian literary canon, Gender and
Education, DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2020.1735313
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2020.1735313
Published online: 05 Mar 2020.
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Teacher-researchers: a pilot project for unsettling the
secondary Australian literary canon
Larissa McLean Davies , Sarah E. Truman and Lucy Buzacott
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
ABSTRACT
Despite ongoing attempts to disrupt the white cis-hetero-masculine
nature of the literary canon the secondary school English curriculum
remains tethered to its lineage. In conversation with feminist new
materialist scholars who argue that the stories we read and write
have material aects on who we are becoming, this paper argues
that in order to mobilise change in the secondary years of
schooling, interventions into the canon must move beyond
(re)forming text lists or providing teachers with readymade
pedagogical resources. Drawing on the Australian context, the
authors outline some of the contemporary challenges teachers
face in diversifying and decolonising the curriculum. Drawing on
their Literary Linking Methodology the authors discuss a pilot
project that seeks to unsettle the canon by supporting teachers to
undertake extended immersion with both contemporary literary
texts and archival research. Accordingly, this paper contributes to
understandings of the tensions and challenges teachers face in
introducing contemporary Australian texts into the curriculum and
oers insights into the ways in which professional learning might
be (re)imagined so that English teachers might draw on available
cultural resources as researchers and literary knowledge producers
in the twenty-rst century.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 2 October 2019
Accepted 23 December 2019
KEYWORDS
Material feminisms; critical/
literary theory; secondary
education; women; gender;
teachers; English
Teaching literature for cultural formation and personal growth
In her award-winning memoir, The Hate Race,
1
Maxine Beneba Clarke recounts her experi-
ences attending her Primary schools book-week parade, as a child of Afro-Caribbean
descent growing up in the suburbs of Sydney in the 1980s. This annual event proved to
be uncomfortable and frustrating for Beneba Clarke and her siblings. She reects
my mother had encouraged us to go as characters that were most like us. But Caecilia and
I didnt want to go as one of the characters from the few childrens books we owned that
had black kids in them.I had gone dressed as Pocahontas the rst year, while Caecilia
was Hiawatha: characters of colour the other kids might at least know. (Beneba Clarke
2016,4142)
Beneba Clarkesreection on book-week emphasises both the role literature plays in
the imaginative lives of communities and the ways in which storytelling legitimises and
expands the experience. Beneba Clarke identies that lack of representation of diversity
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Lucy Buzacott lucy.buzacott@unimelb.edu.au
GENDER AND EDUCATION
https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2020.1735313
in Australian texts makes students of colour, students wearing clothing for religious pur-
poses, and students living with disability invisible. In her keynote address at the
opening of the Melbourne WritersFestival and announcement of the Miles Franklin
Award in 2016, she urged publishers to take more risks when considering childrens
booksasserting it is the right of every child to see themselves in story(Alcorn 2016).
Beneba Clarkes reading experiences and call to action articulate with recent edu-
cational and disciplinary debates regarding what constitutes literature and literary knowl-
edge (Yates et al. 2019); the role of literature in education (Atherton 2005; Glazener 2015);
ongoing discussions about a lack of diversity in author representation and text selection
(Bacalja and Bliss 2019; McLean Davies and Buzacott 2018); and calls to upset the white-
ness of the canon (Kon-yu 2016; Black 2018). Within an Australian context, these debates
are also entwined with curricular mandates to include more Australian literature in the
English curriculum, which raises contrasting views on what kinds of writing should be
centred as literature, and teachersabilities, resources, and time to engage with diverse
texts (Doecke, McLean Davies, and Mead 2011; Martin and McLean Davies 2017). In
noting these debate we recognise that text selection is highly politicised and that teachers
do not always have autonomy around the literature chosen for study in their schools and
that teachers and school communities face particular internal and external pressures to
retain the status quo.
Debates about the role and purpose of literature have been part of the history of
English since it has been formally taught in schools. As early as the 1880s colonial
powers have discussed the importance of teaching literature as a civilizingprocess in
imperial settings such as British occupied India, and settler-colonial states like Canada
and Australia, as well as within Britain itself (Atherton 2005). Peter Widdowson describes
the original aims of the creation of the canon as an ideologically-driven initiative to
humaniseand civilisepotentially disruptive elements in a developing class-stratied
society(cited in Atherton 2005, 13). Doecke (2017) argues that of all school subjects
English has been especially wrought by tensions relating to the creation of a citizenry
(232). The kind of citizenry that relies on the privileging of particular social interests at
the expense of others(Doecke 2017, 232). This is the case even when policy has
attempted to mobilise subject English for a more equitable and harmonious society
drawing on the lived experiences of students and their literary interests (Departmental
Committee 1921; DES 1975).
We highlight this thread in English Studies to demonstrate that reading literature has
never been apolitical. English as a subject in part depends on conceptualisations of litera-
ture as a force for cultural knowledge, personal growth, and citizenry: attributes that in
turn arm Englishs use-value on various levels. In this paper, to further explore and poli-
ticise the promise of literature and narrative to materially shape readers, we turn to fem-
inist scholars. Black literary theorist Sylvia Wynter (Wynter and McKittrick 2015) puts forth
the notion of Homo Narrans to explain how in her view, humans developed biologically in
conjunction with language and storytelling. Wynters argument resonates with English
studies accounts of the material eect of story on shaping who we become, but also
begs the question: whose stories are prioritised, whose stories are listened to? (Truman
2019a) Similarly, Donna Haraway (2016) states, it matters what matters we use to think
other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with …’ (12). One
of the key thinkers in what has been termed the feminist new materialisms, Haraway
2L. MCLEAN DAVIES ET AL.
addresses the material eects of not only the content of stories that are told, but also how
they are told, and whos telling them. From a feminist new materialist perspective, the the-
orists and techniques we use to analyse stories also matter and have material eects
(Truman 2019b). In this paper, we draw on these scholars, not to refute the long history
of conceptualising English around narratives materially aecting who we become, but
to complicate it. We ask, what is being reproduced materially, literally, and guratively
by the stories that are centred in English, and what is being left out? As Karen Barad
(2007) prompts, we should consider not only what has come to matter, but what is
excluded from matteringin teaching, learning, and research (178).
To this end, in this paper we ask not only what is being left out, but why, in the second
decade of the twenty-rst century, it remains a challenge to include diverse voices and
stories in the secondary English curriculum in Australia. We review research and existing
interventions designed to unsettle the literary canon, and discuss some of the enduring
tensions and resistances teachers face in oering a heterogenous English curriculum,
these include the perceived status of womens and Indigenous literature; neo-liberal
reforms which emphasise testing; ongoing concerns about boysliteracy; and limited
time within an accountability culture to develop new knowledge of contemporary texts.
We assert that a way forward is to speak back to neo-liberal paradigms which undermine
teacher professionalism and quality and argue for the importance of arming English
teaching as intellectual work.
To support these claims, we turn to a pilot study that used Literary Linking
4
to
connect the writings of diverse contemporary Australian women writers with archival
materials available through the University of Melbournes cultural collections. The
study deliberately took teachersout of their contexts in order to engage with resources
that would enhance literary learning in their classrooms and positioned secondary
English teachers as researchers into the depth and diversity of what counts as Australian
literature now and prioritised English teacherssituated interests as important pedago-
gical tools in curricular development.
In this way, this paper leverages feminist theory to support understandings of the ten-
sions and challenges teachers face in introducing contemporary Australian texts into the
curriculum, and also oers insights into the ways in which professional learning might be
(re)imagined so that English teachers might draw on available cultural resources and be
armed as researchers and literary knowledge producers in the twenty-rst century.
We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this approach for broader curriculum
development.
Curriculum matters: continued concerns over diversity and representation
In this section, we look at data and recent research on literary representation in schools to
consider some trends in the texts that make up the secondary English curriculum in Aus-
tralia. We reference some of the interventions that have been undertaken in order to
address issues of diverse Australian voices in literature in English and consider the
forces that impact on teachersdesires to teach diverse texts.
The texts set for study in secondary English subjects in Australia reveal certain kinds of
literary canon, which in turn, creates a certain kind of literate Australian citizen. The Analy-
sis of Literature in Australian Schools (ALIAS) database, the product of a research project
GENDER AND EDUCATION 3
led by Tim Dolin and John Yiannakis, and which houses texts lists from senior years
English curricula in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and New
South Wales from 1945 to 2005, allows us to analyse the most popular texts set for
study between 1966 and 2005 (Yiannakis 2014). These texts are, in order of those most
often set:
(1) The Crucible by Arthur Miller
(2) Tess of the DUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy
(3) Hamlet by William Shakespeare
(4) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
(5) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
(6) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
(7) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
(8) Othello by William Shakespeare
(9) King Lear by William Shakespeare
(10) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The texts most often set for study in Australian schools in this period are all by British
(seven texts) or American authors (three texts). Three Shakespeare plays appear in the top
10 but only two of the texts listed are written by women (Wuthering Heights and Pride and
Prejudice). There are no texts authored by a person of colour and no Australian texts in this
top 10. A text authored by an Australian woman does not appear until number 25 on this
list (Gwen HarwoodsSelected Poems). The lack of diversity in these texts, and particularly,
the prevalence of texts from the British canon here reiterates one of the key goals of
subject English in Australia since its inception in the nineteenth century, to become
British(Green and Cormack 2008). As Annette Patterson has argued, texts studied in
Subject English can provide valuable historical information about identity formation,
social values and ideological alignments(2012, 15). The history of text selection evidences
how the political history of Australia has resulted in practices and approaches in subject
English that reveal a tacit, but tenacious and uncontested imperial allegiance (McLean
Davies, Martin, and Buzacott 2017; McLean Davies and Buzacott 2018).
In a recent study, Bacalja and Bliss (2019) analysed 360 texts that appeared in the State
of Victoria, Australias English curriculum between 2010 and 2019 looking for trends in
authorship, narrative, and characterisation. Following the curriculum denition, their
term textincluded lms as well as novel, plays, poems, and short stories. Some of their
ndings include the primacy of male authors; that narratives exhibit an absolute domi-
nance of heterosexual characters(17); and that out of 360 texts analysed only 13 (3.6%)
percent contained a sustained Indigenous protagonist(18). However, even amongst
the small percentage, when texts focused on Indigenous Australians, the majority were
authored by settlers. It should be emphasised that Bacalja and Bliss and the ALIAS data-
base both concern the list of recommended texts: not an overview of the texts that are
actually taught, however, other studies show (Jogie 2015; Yiannakis 2014; McLean
Davies and Buzacott 2018) that these too remain tethered for the most part to the tra-
ditional white British and American canon. Of course, text lists can not give us insights
into the theoretical and pedagogical approaches teachers will take with students in
their classrooms. Some may argue that in fact, it is the pedagogical approaches that are
4L. MCLEAN DAVIES ET AL.
more signicant than the texts themselves. Whilst we would not seek to diminish the work
that teachers do in their classrooms, it is erroneous to suggest that the texts selected and
taught in schools do not matter or are universally applicable. As argued above, the stories
students are exposed to signicantly impact on the ways they understand and make
meaning of the worlds they inhabit.
In a similar vein, a study recently published in English in Australia (McGraw and Van
Leent 2018) analysed a sample text list suggested for the Australian Curriculum: English
Senior Years in an attempt to quantify LGBTQI+-inclusive themes. Queer-inclusive curricu-
lum provides access to texts that might: explore the experience of gender or sexually
diverse characters, or themes, or include overt representation of gender and sexually
diverse characters(33). Of the 21 ACARA-suggested texts, only two were identied as con-
taining queer-inclusive themes. Notably the two texts were ShakespearesTwelfth Night
and FitzgeraldsThe Great Gatsby, neither of which has overt LGBTQI+ characters, and
arguably are not queer texts but texts that have instead been subjected to a queer
reading.
This lack of representation of Australian texts in the curriculum, let alone Australian
texts by women or gender diverse authors has led to a number of key interventions
which have identied and, in some cases, attempted to redress issues around text diversity
in Australian literary culture and education. These have included work identifying and col-
lecting data on diversity issues such as The Stella Count and the recently launched First
Nations and People of Colour Writers Count. Signicant initiatives have also sought to chal-
lenge these issues, including projects seeking to resource teachers and academics such as
the Austlit database and the Reading Australia online database. Other initiatives include
raising the prole of Australian womens writing such as The Stella Prize and its associated
Schools programme and the annual schools programmes run by the Melbourne Writers
Festival.
2
However, despite these signicant and important projects and interventions, and
clear statements and understandings of the problem (Flood 2016), the challenge of
teaching diverse Australian texts in schools remains well into the twenty-rst century.
Perhaps the most abiding reason for the lack of diverse gender representation
relates to the general status of Australian literature in the secondary school curriculum.
As has been discussed elsewhere (McLean Davies, Martin, and Buzacott 2017; Doecke,
McLean Davies, and Mead 2011), Australian literature has not enjoyed an elevated or
celebrated status in the secondary years of schooling (or, indeed, in the tertiary
context see Gelder 2000). As noted previously, the teaching of literature in colonised
Australia in the early twentieth century was understood as a means through which an
educated public could gain access to the cultural imperial centre (Doecke 2017;
Patterson 2012). Consequently, any locally produced literature (by white settler subjects
only Aboriginal literature was not identied by mainstream culture until well into the
twentieth century) was considered inferior and not worthy of study. By way of example
of the extent of this phenomenon, there are well-known accounts of male Professors of
English literature at Universities in Melbourne and Adelaide denouncing the existence
of quality Australian literature in the 1940s, even as they are being asked to give
public lectures on it, or comment on it in the national daily paper (Doecke, McLean
Davies, and Mead 2011).
GENDER AND EDUCATION 5
These examples pre-empt and epitomise what became known as the Australian cultural
cringe, a term coined by the critic A. A Phillips in 1950 (Hesketh 2013) which encompasses
more than literature, but which has signicantly impacted on the selection and teaching of
texts in schools into the twenty-rst century. As a result of a reluctance to consider Aus-
tralian literature as valuable or worthy of study for the majority of the twentieth
century, it is quite possible that those preparing to be English teachers during this
period were not exposed to any Australian literature as part of their secondary or tertiary
education, therefore lessening the likelihood of them selecting it for study for the students
they would teach in the future. This has perpetuated the orientation of school English
towards canonical British and North American texts; a condition that has been exacerbated
by twenty-rst century neo-liberal high-stakes educational environments (McLean Davies
and Buzacott 2018).
While Australian literature became more visible and available as a result of government
funding for the Australian publishing industry in the mid-1970s (Gelder and Salzman 2009;
McLean Davies 2011); research has shown that the higher cultural capital accorded to
British and North American canonical texts in schools resulted in Australian teachers
directing students to write on these culturally safetexts in examinations in preference
to Australian texts (Teese 2013; McLean Davies 2011). This was in deference not only to
perceptions of cultural and social capital, but also to an assessment and marking
regime that materially rewards students who wrote on literature from the northern hemi-
sphere (McLean Davies 2013). These cultural and pragmatic drivers constraining text selec-
tion practices reinscribe the patriarchal, white, canonical and colonial dominance of stories
in contemporary Australian schools. With this unstated, but enacted curriculum in place,
there was, and remains, little incentive for schools and teachers to take what is perceived
to be a riskby setting Australian literature for nal high-stakes examination. Further, as
Manuel, Carter and Dutton have shown (2018), neo-liberal reforms have resulted in an
auditing culture dominating English teacherswork in classrooms, and much of teachers
time is taken with administration and bureaucracy thus also rendering the challenge and
burden of teaching a new text less likely.
The perceived danger of selecting and teaching Australian literature, particularly con-
temporary texts by women and people of colour, is compounded by fewer available
resources and pedagogical materials (Teese 2013). Teachers reluctance to set contempor-
ary Australian texts is also inuenced by public and parental anxiety about content which
might narrate abuse, challenge sexual stereotypes and unsettle patriarchal norms (Hastie
2018; Green, Hodgens, and Luke 1997). Indeed, in the past 10 years, there has been
increased pressure on English teachers to take responsibility for student wellbeing, and
concern has been raised regarding texts reecting community standards (although
what these consist of is often unclear) (VCAA 2018) and potentially containing trigger
warnings to alert students to challenging and uncomfortable content (Cook 2017).
As a result of what has been perennially perceived to be an ongoing crisis in the teach-
ing of Australian literature, in 2007, following a meeting held by the Australia Council for
the Arts on the teaching of literature in schools and universities (Australia Council for the
Arts 2007), those responsible for developing Australiasrst national curriculum deter-
mined that literature (as opposed to texts) would be made central to the curriculum
and that Australian literature would be mandated through all the compulsory years of
schooling (McLean Davies 2008). While the notion of mandating any texts may seem
6L. MCLEAN DAVIES ET AL.
heavy-handed, in the Australian context this reects the need to ameliorate the ongoing
silencing of diverse Australian voices. It is important for our argument here to note that
gender is not raised by curriculum documents as an intersecting category to be con-
sidered when Australian texts are being selected, and therefore remains absent even
within a broader advocacy for Australian literature. Students across the compulsory
years of schooling are not required to explicitly engage with literature by women or
migrant Australians (it is syntactically ambiguous where texts by or about Asians sit in
the above curriculum requirement, but it is most likely as part of world literature).
Further, the lack of alignment between text selection criteria, curriculum content descrip-
tors and intended outcomes at each year level means that there is little imperative for
teacher or school accountability with regard to the mandate to teach Australian literature,
and given the challenges to selecting Australian literature we have outlined above, means
that increased inclusion of local literatures on the curriculum is unlikely.
Additionally while the Australian Curriculum: English (AC:E) content descriptors (indi-
cations of material to be covered in classrooms) do mention Australian literature there
are no references to Australian literature in the outcomes for English. This means that
while students are obliged to read Australian literature, they are not assessed on this
reading, new literary knowledge or aesthetic experience. Further, any intention towards
diversity, particularly in terms of the literature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples set out in the AC:E was undermined by a Review of the Curriculum, undertaken
by the newly elected conservative Federal Liberal Government in 2014. Reviewers criti-
cised the emphasis on Australian literature and attempted to trace all enduring Australian
literature to an imperial origin. Pointedly, no women writers were listed in the reviewers
recommendations of suitable Australian texts and authors to study (Spurr 2014).
Clearly, if Australian literature itself is marginalised on English curricula in Australia, then
writing by Australian women suers a double marginalisation both because of national-
ity and gender, and because of intersectional factors such as race, sexual orientation, or
disability which further marginalise diverse authors and stories. Indeed, sporadic public,
government and media eorts to redress the representation of Australian literature on
the curriculum have often focussed on texts by greatwhite Australian male writers
(such as Peter Carey and Patrick White), in an attempt to advocate for a canonof national
literatures (Donnelly 2007; Perkin 2007).
One nal factor impacting on the take up of diverse Australian womens writing in
schools relates to literacy attainment and student engagement, specically with regard
to boys. With the advent of national (NAPLAN, and prior to that AIMS) and international
standardised testing (e.g. PISA and PIRLS)
3
producing big, aggregated data sets made
available through these testing regimes, governments and education departments in
the Western world became concerned about the literacy performance and skills of boys
(as compared with the greater achievement of girls on the same tests) (OMara 2014). In
Australia, at the turn of the century, this concern manifest in two signicant Federal Gov-
ernment commissioned reports: Boys: Getting it Right (2002) and Boys, literacy and school-
ing: expanding the repertoires of practice (2002). These reports both found that the dierent
levels of performance of boys and girls on standardised tests could be attributed to a
direct function of the social construction of literacy as a gendered set of practices, atti-
tudes and skills(Alloway et al. 2002, 16). These insights reinforced gender stereotypes
about boys, learning, and formal education that have circulated since the eighteenth
GENDER AND EDUCATION 7
century (Cohen 1998) and motivated a review of the pedagogy and content of subject
English. This resulted in far greater attention being placed on boysengagement with
reading, leading to the setting of literary works that were perceived to articulate more
closely with boysinterests and experiences (McKnight 2015). The logic appears to be
that since girls were naturallydisposed to reading, sustained writing and discussing
ideas, it wouldnt matter what content they were given as the focus of instruction.
This move towards engaging boys in English and retaining their interest in schooling
overshadowed work done in English in the 1990s to draw attention to critical modes of
reading, where issues of gender and power were brought to the fore in classrooms
(Morgan and Mission 2005; Winch 2007). The kinds of insights made available
through critical pedagogical practice were considered less of a priority than retaining
boysinterests in English and schooling generally, even if this meant reinforcing particu-
lar kinds of stereotypical understandings of gender, and privileging texts that empha-
sised standard forms of masculinity. While researchers have shown the limitations of
these reports, particularly in reinforcing essentialised, binary understandings of
gender (Keddie and Mills 2007; Moss 2007) and for failing to address intersectional
issues of race, sexuality, and socio-economic status (Martino and Kehler 2007), text
selection practices in Australia, as we have shown, continue to prioritise (white) boys
engagement with reading, rather than the diverse representation of Australian voices.
Given, as Yates et al have argued (2019), that text selections stands as a proxy for
knowledge in subject English, this deferral to texts that are perceived as suitable for
boys signicantly impacts on the knowledge and experience students are able to
take from literary reading in Australian schools.
Feminist framing of a literary research project
Our review of the eld of secondary English has demonstrated that although there have
been ongoing attempts to unsettle the literary canon, for myriad reasons it continues to
foreground works written by cis-hetero-white (British) men and reproduce predominately
cis-hetero-white (British) narratives. If it is true that the narratives we tell and study have
the capacity to materially transform readers (Haraway 2016; Wynter & McKittrick 2015) rup-
turing common narratives in the literary classroom should be a priority for English tea-
chers. Further, because racism, hetero-sexism, ableism, and trans-phobia are material
realities, feminist pedagogies must attend to and intervene in the processes that allow
inequalities to emerge, persist, and reproduce (Truman 2019c). These were some of the
contributing motives for a project we initiated at the University of Melbourne.
The working title for our project is Teacher-Researchers: Advocates for Australian Litera-
ture. The intention of this project, following a feminist new materialist position, is to
engage with both the materiality of texts, contexts, and the archive and other textual
resources that inform the practices of teaching Australian literature. In the following
section, we will briey outline the overall dimensions of the project; however, we will
only be focusing on one aspect of the data to illustrate the ways in which the theoretical
paradigm is being mobilised.
The Pilot supported ve secondary English teachers in Victoria to undertake a week-
long literary linking research project drawing on the resources of the University of Mel-
bourne Archives in order to complicate and explore Australias literary heritage in
8L. MCLEAN DAVIES ET AL.
conjunction with contemporary Australian womensction. The ve teachers participating
in the pilot project were selected from a diverse range of schools in the state of Victoria.
The teacher-researchers drafted research proposals that were reviewed by a team of scho-
lars. The proposals were assessed based on the diversity of texts the teachers wanted to
focus on in conjunction with the archive as well as through an attempt to provide oppor-
tunities for teachers from diverse schools. Key to this project was the commitment to
teacher-participants as co-researchers and knowledge producers developing curricular
materials for themselves (Mayes and Sawyer 2014; Darling-Hammond 2006; Comber
2005). The aims of the week included: (i) prioritising teachers as researchers through
giving them the time and space to link contemporary literature with archival research;
(ii) mobilising new knowledge about literature through appropriating, re-reading and dis-
rupting a publicly available archive; and (iii) foregrounding diverse contemporary Austra-
lian womens writing for curricular engagement.
Feminist new materialist orientations to research methods ask us to be accountable
to the world-makings and theory-makings(Truman 2019c, n.p.) we generate through
research. With this in mind, we will discuss how we framed the project. To begin, we
established some enabling constraints(Manning and Massumi 2014) to orient the
research. Enabling constraints view the constraining features of an event to be pro-
ductive in their limitation. One enabling constraint was the ve-day time frame of
the project. The teacher-researchers were also required to choose Stella Prize books
written by Indigenous, people of colour, and Australian women authors as their
focal point. By beginning with such texts the teachers centred them in their research
and were able to ground their work in diverse womens writing which is consistently
elided in the English canon. Other enabling constraints included asking the teacher-
researchers to engage with one or more textsavailable in the archive: for example,
the personal archive of well-known and controversial Australian ex-patriot Germaine
Greer, and the publication archives of the literary magazine Meanjin. While we
placed these constraintson the project in order to orient it towards texts written
by contemporary women authors, we also acknowledged how aect and researcher
subjectivitypermeate the research process at every stage(Ringrose and Renold
2014, 772). By researcher subjectivity, we are referring to our own orientations as scho-
lars, as well as the teacher-researchers’‘subjectivitiesthat inuenced their text selec-
tion and orientations in the archives.
As researchers and literary scholars coordinating the event, we were (in)tension
(Springgay and Truman 2018) and situated(Haraway 2016) throughout the ve-days
in the archive. For Springgay and Truman (2018)to keep a method (in)tension is to
be attuned to ethico-political concernsthat arise during what they call the speculat-
ive middleof a research event. Part of this (in)tension is created by moving away from
the proceduralism of assuming in advance what might emerge. As Springgay and
Truman (2018) argue [r]esearch methods that pre-determine what can exist, and as
such what can be extracted, reproduce particular ontological certainties(209). In the
neo-liberal climate of secondary schooling, where teachers are consistently de-skilled
and increasingly required to produce literary outcomes that are generalisable, testable,
and reproducible, allowing for ontological uncertaintyand as one participant
described it time to get lost down rabbit holes in the archivewas part of the feminist
framing of the project. This was not an anything goesapproach to research but an
GENDER AND EDUCATION 9
(in)tension to see what emerges in the research event while maintaining a feminist
orientation.
Facilitating the teacher-researchers as researchers themselves, with the time and space
to be in a place of ontological and epistemological uncertainty allowed them the oppor-
tunity to generate their own understandings from the archive in relation to contemporary
womens writing. In conversation with feminist scholar Elizabeth Grosz (2004) we con-
ceived of the week as a method of engaging in ongoing experiments rather than sol-
utions(2004, 14). There was time for immersion, questioning, dead ends, and insights.
The methodology of this project explicitly allowed the teachers to unsettle the archive
and their own research projects in unique ways. The research they generated was
thoroughly situated in their own interests: the teachers chose texts that were relevant
to their school context and student body. For example, one teacher wanted to challenge
the cis-hetero-white masculinity of her schools prescribed texts, while another sought
reect the diversity of his students, both cultural and linguistic. Research participants
and their projects were also deliberately embedded in their own professional and personal
backgrounds. For example, with some participants linking their research focus to their own
family history.
One participants enabling constraint to guide her research focused on the White Aus-
tralia Policy in conjunction with contemporary Australia womensction by women of
colour. The White Australia policy comprised a number of policies centring on the Immi-
gration Restriction Act of 1901, which sought to prohibit immigration from individuals and
groups considered to be detrimental to Australias national interest. This included speci-
cally prohibiting the immigration of non-European citizens, refusing entry to people of
colour, but also, signicantly prioritised cis-hetero-white families, deliberately excluding
LGBTQI+ people and other minorities (Yue 2008). As has been discussed previously
(McLean Davies and Buzacott 2018) this suite of policies impacted signicantly on text
selection and the teaching of literature in Australia into the late twentieth century. Think-
ing-with the policy, the teacher-researcher found a number of signicant snippets and
traces in the archives that reorientated her research. Dwelling in the speculative
middlethis teacher considered migrant womens voices and representation during this
historical period in conjunction with Maxine Beneba ClarkesThe Hate Race, her memoir
of growing up Black in white middle-class Australia.
During her time in the archive the participant discussed a Young Womens Christian
Association (YWCA) meeting minutes document she found which reported ceasing the
Kumm Prize for an Outstanding Migrant(see image one). In her reection, the teacher
stated:
While these isolated bits and bobs are very entertaining, they also provide really useful insight into
the language and attitudes of their eras towards migrant women, particularly since they were
usually coming from well-meaning women themselves. (Teacher-researcher 1)
The aective resonance of this material object created space for this teacher to confront
the reality of the White Australia Policy, explicitly linking this to her own personal and
familial history. As Ringrose and Renold discuss (2014)aectand researcher subjectivity
penetrate every stage of the research process. A feminist orientation to research charges
researchers to engage responsibly with materials that arise during research events and to
orientate and politicise future research in relation to these tensions (Figure 1).
10 L. MCLEAN DAVIES ET AL.
The discovery of this document proved signicant not only for the direction of the tea-
chers research project, but also revealed itself to her as an item of realia that she could use
in her classroom. This example reveals a direct link via this project between the archive,
contemporary diverse womens writing, and literary pedagogy.
While existing paradigms of teacher-researcher projects often position teachers as
working closely within their context and drawing on University researchers in these insti-
tutional spaces to support the nexus between theory and practice (Mayes and Sawyer
2014), this project deliberately took teachersout of their contexts in order to engage
with resources that would enhance literary learning in their classrooms. In this paradigm,
University academics provide access to resources and disciplinary frameworks as required.
The collaborative approach to research-making enabled participants to think through the
critical approaches to pedagogy they might mobilise in order to be attuned to the political
and intersectional complexity of their global South contexts. The view here was to support
teachers to become independent researchers, able to draw on freely available cultural col-
lections available in Australia to mobilise new knowledge about diverse texts in contem-
porary English classrooms.
Further thoughts
The work of this pilot study revealed a number of signicant outcomes around teacher
identity and education, text selection, and political and cultural engagement within and
beyond the English classroom. The methodological framing of the project as an interven-
tion into researcher engagement and text selection practices enabled the production of
feminist and anti-racist discussion, pedagogy, and curricular materials. The rst phase of
this project revealed that the ve secondary English teachers are curious and engaged
intellectuals, motivated to undertake rigorous independent research. The teachers
involved in the project demonstrated inclusive political attitudes and were deeply
troubled by the white-anglocentricism of the canon generally and how it was and is
being enacted in their schools for their students. Participants were eager to work with
diverse contemporary Australian womens writing and saw value in bringing these texts
into their classrooms. However, all ve teachers highlighted signicant barriers to imple-
menting the insights gained and materials developed from this ve-day research inten-
sive, and this has provided new knowledge about the tensions teachersface when
attempting to include new and diverse texts in secondary English. These barriers included
a lack of time and support to develop their knowledge, with all ve teachers highlighting
the space and time made available to them by this project to think with texts as a rare and
essential part of developing new textual and pedagogical knowledge. Institutional barriers
were also a key concern for teachers, specically around conservative text selection pol-
icies, workload and time pressures, student literacy and the high-stakes assessment
environment. Taken together, these various institutional and political restrictions faced
Figure 1. YWCA meeting minutes (University of Melbourne Archive).
GENDER AND EDUCATION 11
by teachers attempting to implement new literary perspectives and curriculum resources
exist as deterrents to changing text selection practices.
Returning to our feminist new materialist framing, it is clear that we need to consider
the material eects of the stories we are telling and teaching to those who will become
teachers and in turn, they are telling and teaching to their students. If diversity and equal-
ity is of concern to contemporary citizens and a key goal of education, the problems we
have identied regarding the teaching and prioritisation of diverse Australian voices,
echoed in the reections of our teacher-researchers, needs to be addressed at a system
and curriculum level.
As researchers situated within a school of education concerned about the materiality of
texts and their inuence, this work leads us to question teacher literary knowledge, prep-
aration and politics. If intellectually engaged and politically astute teachers, all in their rst
ve years of teaching, feel unable to access, resource, and teach diverse texts, questions
need to be asked about the preparation they have received, through their own secondary
education, undergraduate study and teacher education programme (Yates et al. 2019).
This Pilot study suggests that identifying and honouring the intellectual work of teachers
and their capacity not just to usebut to create and mobile literary knowledge in their con-
texts (Parr 2010)oers insights into the kind of work that might be undertaken in pre-
service programmes, and in in-service professional learning.
At the time of writing the teachers have nished their week in the archive and con-
ducted exit interviews. In the next six months, they will be implementing the curricula
they have developed in their classrooms. The next stage of this research will involve class-
room observations and institutional ethnographies concerning the opportunities and chal-
lenges to implementing these new resources for teachers. This work is a method for
troubling and reconsidering literary education and teacher knowledge in Australia, fore-
grounding the need for rigorous research and the empowering of English teachers as
knowledge-creators and mobilisers, and providing opportunities for teachers to create
networks and connections outside their school contexts to advance and expand the teach-
ing of literature.
Notes
1. Maxine Beneba ClarkesThe Hate Race (2016) was: winner of the NSW Premiers Literary Award
Multicultural NSW Award 2017; Shortlisted for the Nita B Kibble Award 2018; Shortlisted for the
Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Non-Fiction 2017; Shortlisted for the ABIA Biography Book
of the Year 2017; Shortlisted for the Indie Award for Non-Fiction 2017; and Shortlisted for the
Stella Prize 2017 See: https://www.hachette.com.au/maxine-beneba-clarke/the-hate-race
2. The Stella Count assesses gender representation in the book pages of Australian newspapers
and journals (i.e. reviews and other media coverage). See: https://thestellaprize.com.au/the-
count/2017-stella-count/. The First Nations and People of Colour Writers Count seeks to
count the number of books (non-ction, ction, poetry, childrens literature and young
adult) by First Nations and POC writers published in Australia in 2018. See: https://
australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/poc-writers-count/. Austlit is a database about Austra-
lian literature and storytelling, with biographical and bibliographical information, full text,
exhibitions and other online content. See: https://www.austlit.edu.au/. Reading Australia is an
online platform which provides resources related to Australian texts for teachers of English.
See https://readingaustralia.com.au/. The Stella Prize is major literary award celebrating Austra-
lian womens writing, and an organisation that champions cultural change via gender equality
12 L. MCLEAN DAVIES ET AL.
programs, including a specic schools program. See: https://thestellaprize.com.au/.TheMel-
bourne WritersFestival is an annual, 10-day literary festival which includes a specicschools
program for primary and secondary students. See: https://mwf.com.au/schools/
3. NAPLAN is an annual assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australia (see https://
www.nap.edu.au/about). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a tri-
ennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems by testing the skills and
knowledge of 15-year-old students who are nearing the end of their compulsory education
(see https://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/). Progress in International Reading Literacy Study
(PIRLS) is a large-scale assessment designed to inform educational policy and practice by pro-
viding an international perspective of teaching and learning in reading literacy (see: https://
www.acer.org/au/pirls)
4. The Literary Linking Methodology, put forth by the Literary Education Lab, enables teachers to
co-produce new knowledge through exploring the interface of literature and other cultural
and historical texts and resources.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on contributors
Associate Professor Larissa McLean Daviesresearch spans the elds of literary studies and English
education. Larissa is currently Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education at the Graduate
School of Education at the University of Melbourne. Larissa is the lead Chief Investigator of the ARC
Discovery Project Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers (20162019)
and leads research into the teaching of Australian literature for the Literary Education Lab.
Dr Sarah E. Trumans research focuses on English literary education including how literary studies
and literary interpretation are enacted in the English curriculum, pedagogies and politics of
reading and writing, and speculative ction and STS imaginaries in texts. Her research is informed
by the feminist new materialisms with a particular interest in theories of aect, queer theory and
speculative pragmatism. She is a researcher at the Literary Education Lab; co-director of WalkingLab;
and one half of the electronic music duo Oblique Curiosities. www.sarahetruman.com.
Dr Lucy Buzacott is a Research Manager at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the Uni-
versity of Melbourne. She currently manages the Literary Education Lab and the ARC-funded project
Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers as well as contributing to pro-
jects related to national literatures, literary knowledge, and English curriculum. She has a PhD in Lit-
erary Studies from the University of Queensland. Her PhD explored the intersection of race and
gender in the work of William Faulkner. Her current research interests include Australian and Amer-
ican literature, critical race and whiteness studies, and secondary and tertiary English education.
ORCID
Larissa McLean Davies http://orcid.org/0000-0002-6963-2474
Sarah E. Truman http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1466-8859
Lucy Buzacott http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1023-6813
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The task of English language and literacy education to define citizenship, and shape citizens, has rarely been more compelling or more challenging than it is today. Globally and nationally, our civic response to COVID-19 has catapulted us into a world where our rights as and responsibilities as citizens are being fundamentally re-negotiated at the same time as we come to rely on technologically mediated literate practice to connect a world that is more spatially and temporally separated than many of us have ever known it to be. We are challenged to remake our identities and commit to new kinds of personal and civic relationships—nationally and globally—as we try to navigate uncharted waters. Our focus here is on the role that literacy education plays in understanding and defining active citizenship in a turbulent context in which foundational literacy practices are transforming just as accepted understandings of active citizenship are under challenge. We direct our attention specifically to the distinctive role that literacy practice plays in the production of identities and relationships and consider new ways for literacy education to build active citizenship across the lifespan from early education through primary and secondary education through to workforce education.
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This article presents the results of a study, conducted in parts of Wales and southwest England, focusing on what literature is being taught to learners aged 11–14 years. By exploring this area, we gain insight into influences on teacher choices and the challenges faced by teachers. Our research, which included a survey of over 170 teachers as well as teacher interviews, provides a snapshot of young people's experiences studying literature in the early secondary years (Key Stage 3). The results show that while some schools provide variety and diversity in their choice of texts and authors, the majority provide a limited diet of literature with texts mainly from male writers, with male protagonists. Girls are rarely the main focus. Nor do the majority of children study literature written by or about those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, highlighting a lack of diversity. Literature teaching at Key Stage 3 is increasingly influenced by the demands of GCSE and exam accountability. We hope the study can act as a catalyst for discussion about what ought to be the purpose and focus of literature study in England, Wales and beyond.
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English remains the only subject mandated throughout the years of schooling in Australia. The compulsory nature of this subject reflects its responsibility for the personal, and literate, development of students. Literature has often been charged with the social and moral dimensions of English. Increasingly, in Australia and elsewhere, literature that disrupts colonial, patriarchal and heteronormative canonical narratives, that presents what might be understood as ‘difficult’ knowledge, is being selected for study. Drawing on two case stories from current research, this paper explores how text selection and pedagogical practices mediate diverse students’ engagements with difficult knowledge in subject English. It explores the challenges teachers face when attempting to disrupt dominant textual meaning-making practices and the decisions they make regarding the kinds of knowledge students encounter in English. We suggest an alternative paradigm– relational literacy– to assist English teachers to reconceptualise students’ textual experiences and knowledges in secondary school English.
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The articles in this themed issue explore global educational experiences that embrace various cultures, traditions, religions and identities. Collectively this work offers valuable insights into unexplored areas of research, illuminating issues that intersect across race, ethnicity and gender. The significance of these studies lies in the solutions, centred on social justice, that reflect resistance, activism and innovation harnessed in response to the problems discussed. This collection helps to bridge the divide between north and south in the academic world, demonstrating that answers to educational inequalities can be found in models for transformation both within and beyond the western hemisphere.
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Stories and literature play an important and necessary role in understanding the past and in creating the future. Yet, in colonised countries such as Australia, the status of contemporary national texts, particularly those reflecting the diverse voices of Indigenous writers, women, and other marginalised groups, continue to be underrepresented in schools. In this article, we explore the reasons why Australian texts continue to be marginalised in education, when there is a clear desire for diverse Australian voices amongst the reading public. We also consider the kinds of national identities that current text selection and teaching policies are creating and maintaining in schools. In order to develop these ideas, we draw on data collected via a survey of secondary English teachers for a pilot research project called Teaching Australia. In this project, we explored the Australian texts being selected and championed by teachers in secondary schools, the perceptions of nation and national identity these convey, and teachers’ approaches to including diverse Australian texts in their classrooms. In the final section of the paper, we consider some future opportunities for engagement with diverse Australian literature for teachers and students of English.
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Feminist new materialisms are a porous field influenced by feminist science and technology studies, the environmental humanities, the thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, transgender and queer studies, and affect studies. In qualitative research, the feminist new materialisms are often linked to discussions of the posthuman, object-oriented ontology, and the ontological or vital materialist turn. As these theoretical turns are activated in qualitative research, they in turn upset classical notions of positivism, directly implicate researchers in the research process, attune researchers’ attention to more-than-human agents, challenge representationalism, and recognize that thinking-with theoretical concepts is also “empirical” research.
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Read article at: https://www.aate.org.au/documents/item/1758 Abstract: This paper reports on the findings of a study of 211 secondary school English teachers in New South Wales, Australia. The study aimed to gather data on English teachers’ work and lives, including their perspectives on workload, motivation, work satisfaction, wellbeing, and career intentions. In an educational environment dominated by a culture of ‘performativity’ (Ball, 2003, p. 216) manifested through the institutionalising of standards-based systems designed to codify, measure and judge teacher quality, the views and voices of teachers themselves are too often marginalised or absent from research and policy debates. In this paper, we represent English teachers’ perspectives on their work and lives and draw attention to the impact of an intensified workload on their capacity for quality teaching and continued investment in teaching as a career. The findings highlight a range of professional and situated factors (Day et al., 2006) experienced by teachers as a consequence of: administrative and accountability compliance demands associated with monitoring and reporting of teacher and student performance; high-stakes test preparation, associated data gathering, administration, and heightened expectations from the school executive, students, parents and the wider community; the speed of centralised curriculum change and policy reform; and diminished resources and support, including inadequate support for implementing new curriculum. The phenomenon of an intensified and excessive workload was perceived to be the single most determinant factor in impeding English teachers’ desire to focus on the ‘core business’ of teaching to their best. The paper calls for urgent attention to teacher workload and its far-reaching implications for quality teaching, student learning and the retention and support of high-calibre teachers in the profession.
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This paper considers how literacy and education more broadly reflect and reproduce world views and communicative practices rooted in the western epistemological conceptualization of what Sylvia Wynter calls “Man”. I frictionally think-with Wynter’s hybridity of bios and logos (mythoi), and more-than-human theories in relation to an in-school study in a secondary English classroom. I focus on how affect and refusal have the potential to operate as inhuman literacies that can unsettle the humanism of normative approaches to literacy education. Finally, I engage with Wynter’s homo narrans, which is the idea that we became who we are as a species in part through storytelling. While this storying capability has been used to uphold and reinforce the dominant world order, it also has the potential to rupture humanism from within.
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This article draws on Donna Haraway’s call for feminist speculative fabulation as an approach to qualitative research methodologies and writing praxis in schools. The first section of the article outlines how I conceptualize speculative thought, through different philosophers and theorists, and provides a brief literature review of speculative fiction used in secondary English curricula. The article then focuses on an in school creative writing project with grade 9 English students. In the student examples that I attend to, speculative fabulations and situated feminisms (race, gender, sexuality) are entangled, rendered complex, and in tension. In the final section, I discuss the Whiteness of mainstream speculative fiction and argue that speculative fabulation must be accountable to situated feminisms in how we read, write, and conduct research.
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The sensitive question of whether censorship is permissible in the classroom has not been effectively explored, nor has there been an exhaustive survey of all occurrences of public censorship in schools. Through tracking all public occurrences, this article seeks to understand whether censorship is ever justified in both the English classroom and the school beyond. The language surrounding occurrences revealed three different social discourses about the agency of the child: purity and danger, the pedagogy of the oppressed, and liberal consensus. Whether text censorship is justified is ultimately a nuanced ethical issue concerning what constitutes the good society and the free agency of its children. From a social utilitarian position, I conclude that the liberal consensus model is most constructive for the Australian social contract, and argue for a rare case for censorship when a consensus model is undermined. © 2018, AATE - Australian Association Teaching English. All rights reserved.
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This article takes up questions about knowledge and the school curriculum with respect to literary studies within subject English. Its intention is to focus on literary studies in English from the context of current waves of curriculum reform, rather than as part of the conversations primarily within the field of English, to raise questions about the knowledge agenda, and the knowledge-base agenda for teaching and teacher education. The selection of texts and form of study of literature within the English curriculum has long been an area of controversy. Without assuming a particular position on knowledge in this area, this article shows that important questions of what knowledge-base teachers are expected to bring to their work are elided both in current regulations and debates, and in research on ‘good teaching’ in this area. If ‘literary studies’ (as a discipline or university major) is itself an unstable and changing field, what kind of knowledge does a good English teacher bring to their work? This paper takes up these questions in the context of the Australian Curriculum and standards for teacher registration, but it also points to the way these issues about knowledge are of broader relevance for researchers and teacher education.
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In this paper we report the results of an analysis underpinned by a critical orientation seeking non-heteronormative representations of sexualities in an official English curriculum text list. Content and thematic analyses were conducted to establish the extent to which diverse sexualities are represented in the ‘sample text list’ for the Australian Curriculum: Senior Secondary English. Only two of the fiction texts on the list were found to substantially contain non-heterosexual protagonists, named characters, experiences, or relationships. We contend that creators of authorised text lists should seek to more overtly address the persistence of heteronormativity in Australian schools by listing texts that represent diverse sexual identities and issues of sexual difference and diversity, and texts that are equitably accessible to a wider range of students in English. © 2018, AATE - Australian Association Teaching English. All rights reserved.