Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Making Literacy Policy and Practice with a Difference

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Making Literacy Policy and Practice with a Difference

Article excerpt

Policy matters

My talk today is about educational policy and, more specifically, literacy in education policy in Queensland and Australia. Typically, in educational taxonomies and cycles of research and development we get to policy last, as the 'application' or the consequence of something we know or have learned interpretively or empirically. For many educators policy is treated as a necessary evil but not something that anybody would ever profess doing. Everybody loves to hate policy and nobody really wants to do it, but everybody loves to hate you when you're doing policy.

But policy matters--and what policy enables and disenables is crucial to our work as teachers and administrators, teacher educators and researchers. The time that I spent working for the Queensland Government in 1999-2000 gave me a better understanding of what it is that people try to do when they make policy. To take a metaphor from the literature on globalisation, policy is about constructing and regulating, critiquing and engaging the flows of fiscal and material resources, flows of human bodies, and flows of discourse from governments and central offices out into schools into staffrooms and classrooms, into communities and peoples' lives and, indeed, back again. All this occurs in some kind of chaotic loop--although we act as if there is intention, dominant ideology, order and plan to what so often involves local uptakes, accidents of discourse, idiosyncratic material and human responses.

Teachers are artists at resisting, undermining and ignoring policy. For their part, many policy makers know that teachers ignore central office, disregard curriculum reforms, and devote substantial work to getting around policy. As for academics, we too earn our keep through the intellectual work of critiquing policy and policy makers. The utter freedom of the academy to critique government, to critique policy, to deconstruct is important not just to the sustainability of educational theory but to the task of continually remaking and transforming everyday practice. (1) But when we are actually given the keys to the car and asked to drive, the result is utterly predictable: fear and panic.

This was my experience three years ago when Terry Moran, then Director--General of Education in Queensland said something to this effect: 'Well, you and your colleagues in professional organisations and universities have been telling us what we've done wrong for several years. What would you do instead?' Today I want to describe what I and many colleagues (teachers, academics and bureaucrats) have tried to do in Queensland over the past four years, and discuss three aspects of that work. These are: the New Basics technical paper (Luke et al., 2000); the work I did with Peter Freebody and Ray Land entitled Literate Futures (Luke, Freebody & Land, 2001); and The Queensland School Longitudinal Restructuring Study (Lingard et al., 2002). These texts are policy texts and discourses not without flaws and problems, ruptures and contradictions, speculations and risks. But they are crucial moments in an ongoing attempt in Australia to make and think policy differently.

Over the last few years I and many other literacy educators, researchers and teacher educators have had ample opportunities to take Australian literacy education into international forums. It is important to acknowledge that we have achieved a great deal. We lead the world in approaches to teaching writing and writing curriculum. We lead in the teaching of critical literacy, in the development of linguistic metalanguages, and in our capacity to talk about language and text. We survived the 1980s and 1990s without ripping ourselves to pieces over reading wars. We have maintained a consistent commitment as a profession to social justice, even at those times when some governments and states have not. Australian literacy educators have remained staunchly committed to literacy as a powerful force for equity and a powerful force for redistributive social justice. …

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