English Teaching: Practice and Critique

Volume 13, Number 1 (May 2014): Focus: English curriculum in the current moment: Tensions between policy and professionalism.

Co-editors: Karen Moni (School of Education, University of Queensland) and Sue Brindley (University of Cambridge, UK) and Amanda Haertling Thein (College of Education, University of Iowa)

Rationale: Untitled Document

Knowledge as we know it in the academy is coming to an end ... [and this represents] a crisis arguably more serious than those of finance, organisation and structure. (Griffin, 1997:3)
We are facing unprecedented assaults on teacher knowledge, professionalism and identity. The values of liberal humanism are being replaced by those of neo-liberalism. Teaching and teachers are being defined through ‘Standards’, and Education is reduced to a market place. ‘Knowledge’ is defined by centralized curricula and enforced through government inspections. Teacher professionalism is defined by policy makers: the good teacher is defined by compliance, not autonomy, and Ball’s ‘discourses of derision’ are widespread. Teacher voice has been lost and replaced by teacher silence.

Of all subjects, English has perhaps been hardest hit. In teaching the skills of critique, in developing awareness of interpretation and meaning, in dealing with values and beliefs, English is dangerous. Worldwide, English teachers now face complex and restrictive policy environments. These environments seek to micro-manage the work of teaching and strip English teachers of their professionalism and autonomy through practices such as deficit model teacher performance assessments that are based on deficit model testing of students.

In response to policy mandates, curriculum development and implementation is increasingly constrained and packaged as “one-size-fits-all.” For instance, in the US, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), although not written as curriculum standards, are increasingly being interpreted as such; major textbook and testing companies are developing materials that draw specifically on the lists of grade-level exemplar texts provided by the CCSS and teachers are expected to adapt without input or questions. In the UK, similar restrictions apply, and Australia may be similarly impacted by the introduction of a national curriculum for English. In these circumstances, curriculum is managed by policy makers, reinforced through swingeing assessment regimes, inspected by policy petit bourgeoisie, and uncontextualised league tables ‘inform’ the wider society about school successes – and failures. Rather than leading change, advocating for the profession and celebrating English teaching, English educators and professional associations have spent precious resources and time defending their practices.

Following other leaders in English education (Brock, 2012; Doecke, Parr & Sawyer, 2011; Green, 2008; Luke, 2010, Smagorinsky, 2013 to name just a few), the editors of this issue believe that rather than allowing media and politics to position us, we as English educators must instead reclaim the agenda of teaching and learning in English, developing a professional discourse which allows us to speak with confident, convincing voices, drawing on research, on our empirical knowledge of the professional work of teachers who bring English to life through their interpretation and enactment of curriculum in their classrooms and communities. In this deliberately provocatively themed edition of English Teaching: Practice and Critique, we invite empirical research as well as reflective pieces and essays, that actively respond to this contested moment in the teaching of English. Moreover, we are interested in contributions that provide alternative views that might disrupt the “normalisation processes” created by policy and mandated curriculum.

This volume reflects the view of English educators who have chosen to ‘think differently’ about how the teaching of English might be actively conceptualized and positioned by English teachers and educators in the face of current constraints, pressures, and mandates. Contributions originate from a range of contexts: the US, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, but pay particular attention to the implications of current standards-based reforms in the US and Australia. Contributors to this special issue focus on such topics as classroom practice, teacher identity, student learning, curriculum documents and texts, and policy documents themselves.

Brock, P. (2012). Reading and secondary school English: Historical contexts for some contemporary English in education theory and practice. Teenagers and Reading: Literary Heritages, Cultural Contexts and Contemporary Reading Practices, 38.
Doecke, B. Parr, G., & Sawyer, W. (Eds.) (2011). Creating an Australian curriculum for English: National agendas, local contexts . Putney, N.S.W.: Phoenix Education.
Green, B. (2008). English, rhetoric, democracy; or renewing English in Australia. English in Australia, 43, 2 35-44.
Luke, A. (2010). Will the Australian Curriculum up the intellectual ante in primary classrooms? Curriculum Perspectives, 30, 10, 59-64
Smagorinsky, P. (2013, July). Authentic teacher evaluation. A two-tiered proposal for formative and summative assessment. Plenary address presented at the 2013 Conference on English Education Summer Conference, Fort Collins, CO.

The Editorial Board expresses its gratitude to the the guest editors of this issue and also to the following (some are members of the Review Board) who have helped with the review process: John Keen (University of Manchester), Simon Gibbons (University of Bedford), Jackie Manuel (University of Sydney), Robyn Ewing (University of Sydney), Kerryn McCluskey (University of Queensland), Wayne Sawyer (University of Western Sydney), Liz McKinlay (University of Queensland), Ian Hardy (University of Queensland), Robyn Henderson (University of Southern Queensland), Annette Woods (Queensland University of Technology), Ronnie Davey (University of Canterbury, Christchurch),Terry Locke (University of Waikato), Jennifer Rennie (Monash University), Joel Windle (Monash University), Peter Smagorinsky (University of Georgia), Samantha Caughlan (Michigan State University), Richard Beach (University of Minnesota), Robert Petrone (Montana State University),Tara Star Johnson (Purdue University), Melissa Mosley Wetzel (University of Texas, Austin), Mark A. Sulzer (University of Iowa), Donna Pasternak (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), Allen Webb (Western Michigan University), Carlin Borsheim-Black (Central Michigan University), Wendy Glenn (University of Connecticut).

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