Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

A Feminist Critique of the Cornerstones Program: The Absence of Gender in Literacy in the Early Years

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

A Feminist Critique of the Cornerstones Program: The Absence of Gender in Literacy in the Early Years

Article excerpt

This article offers a feminist critique of a training and development program in early literacy teaching and learning, a component of the SA Department of Education and Children's Services Early Years Strategy, 1994-98.

We are members of a society in which some groups celebrate hegemonic masculinity, a concept of masculinity that makes men (in our ideas and practices) dominant, powerful, superior and opposite to women. Society provides through its structures, language and forms of interaction possible ways of being or positions. We position ourselves and interpret who we are in relation to others within the possibilities of society.

We learn our position from our earliest learning experiences. It is the responsibility of schools and the programs they offer to present many positions, and to present them all as equally valid. Literacy programs are one means through which positioning can be explored. The discussion can be opened and critical thinking can be employed to delve into the whole notion of being positioned in and by society, leading to individuals having more input into their own position.

Cornerstones is an in-service program (funded by the South Australian Government) which attempts to address the literacy learning outcomes of students in the early years of schooling. A series of modules and workshops, Cornerstones is presented to teachers as a training and development exercise with the following aims. 1. To improve teaching practice in the early years. 2. To foster the early identification of students with literacy learning difficulties. 3. To develop more effective strategies for early assistance. 4. To improve whole school and preschool centre structures and programs for early intervention in the early years of schooling.

Large-scale in-service programs are one way of addressing issues about schooling to a large audience of educators. The form of presentation of the in-service, the time span, the resources and the follow-up provided will all influence the overall effectiveness of the program.

Davies (1988) believes that:

Inservice programs need to be developed through which teachers are able to

develop a clear understanding of the ways in which their practices, those of the

children, the curriculum, and classroom and school structures are involved in

the construction and maintenance of inequitable schooling.

(p. 33)

Cornerstones purports to take this line as an in-service program. In the foreword of the modules, Denis Ralph (Chief Executive, DECS) states:

The Cornerstones program views literacy from a socio-cultural perspective but

draws on the expertise of educators with a range of approaches to literacy

learning ... it seeks to support teachers to develop their own critical framework

for analysing assumptions and practices and for recognising the strengths as

well as the blind spots in the teaching methods they employ.

The `socio-cultural perspective' of Cornerstones, however, is one which avoids the construction of gender in our society and therefore does not address the implications of gender in literacy teaching and learning. While there is information about ESL students and those of other cultural backgrounds, no information to provoke critical thought about teaching girls is provided.

The positioning of women in society -- their role, purpose and value -- is the major concern to feminists because until recently women have been positioned in relation to men. A feminist look at educational policy and practice must be a critical one in terms of how females are positioned throughout their educational experiences and where this will inevitably place them in society. Are females excluded from an equal place in school and society through some `exclusive' discourses?

The position of Cornestones is quite clearly a reflection of the dominant masculine society. …

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