The Literacy Wars: Why Teaching Children to Read and Write Is a Battleground in Australia

The Literacy Wars: Why Teaching Children to Read and Write Is a Battleground in Australia

The Literacy Wars: Why Teaching Children to Read and Write Is a Battleground in Australia

The Literacy Wars: Why Teaching Children to Read and Write Is a Battleground in Australia

Synopsis

Drawing comparisons with the United Kingdom and the United States, this educational reference details the often bitter disagreements that occur in Australia between the critics who want to reclaim old ways of teaching literacy and the educators who emphasize the possibilities for creative change. It illustrates the strong beliefs, deep divisions, and politicization of the debate, which has repercussions for policy decisions and funding. An essential reference for anyone involved with literacy education, this contention explains that the challenge facing literacy teachers everywhere is to find a balance between preserving the legacy of the past and preparing children for the literacy demands of the future.

Excerpt

‘The Literacy Debate’ was the lead story in the Weekend Australian of 23–24 September 2006. The front-page puff piece for the coverage within affirmed the paper’s support for the ‘neutral, apolitical teaching of English’ (Ferrari 2006a). It was accompanied by a cartoon that encapsulated many parents’ anxiety about their children’s literacy. Said a young boy in response to his father’s concern about the quality of his homework: ‘Don’t worry. I can google my way through life.’ There were also two more articles, five images and an editorial—all dedicated to the failings of literacy education. There was only one piece that defended current practice. This was a major offensive in the literacy wars as they are fought in the print media.

Central to the assault on literacy education were extracts from an article by David Freesmith (2006a), an English teacher at Adelaide’s Prince Alfred College, which had been published several months earlier in the teachers’ journal English in Australia. Freesmith (2006b) had accused the Australian of mounting a political and ideological attack on critical literacy but of failing to understand it. The goal of critical literacy, he explained, is to create a questioning, critical, ethical citizenry; critical literacy . . .

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