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After the New English: Cultural politics and English curriculum change

Green, William Charles (1991) After the New English: Cultural politics and English curriculum change. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The focus of this study is on what is called the New English, a specific line of development in English teaching since the watershed period of the 1960s. Recently characterized as the 'ascendant paradigm' in language education in the North American context, in Australia and the United Kingdom it has until very recently been acknowledged as the dominant-hegemonic tradition in English teaching, arguably reaching its apotheosis in the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s. Since the mid 1970s, however, there has been extensive debate regarding literacy pedagogy and the English subjects, and allegedly a 'crisis' in English teaching more generally. This is something which has been driven and contextualized by the cultural and ideological offensives of the New Right, as a significant new force in educational politics. At the same time, there have been significant challenges issued to the Dartmouth tradition in English teaching— the New English, in short—, stemming from new initiatives in linguistic and literary theory, and new forms of cultural and political analysis in educational studies. That is, the politico-theoretical conditions of English curriculum change have undergone a marked transformation in recent times, and this has had specific and quite decisive implications for the discourse on English teaching which is at issue here.

It is, however, the thesis of this study that the New English represents an important, if clearly limited, moment in the larger discourse on English teaching, as a central feature of the social apparatus of State-sponsored mass compulsory schooling. Moreover, current debates concerning the nature of English teaching indicate a major crisis in the organizing principles of curriculum and schooling, in accordance with both the collapse of longstanding ideological settlements and the emergence of what can be appropriately described as postmodern educational culture. For this reason, struggles over the definition of the subject-discipline and the politics and processes of English curriculum change are of particular interest for critical curriculum studies. It is contended, further, that the New English represents an exemplary instance of what must be recognized as a contradictory politics, involving both positive and progressive features on the one hand, and negative and increasingly reactionary features, on the other. Given this, the future of English teaching as a key strategy in the project of critical-democratic schooling is dependent on appropriate forms of deconstruction and critique, specifically with regard to the New English, and the assertion of English teaching as a significant form of cultural politics.

The study accordingly examines aspects of the positioning of the New English within the wider field of educational and cultural politics, and documents some of the consequences and missed opportunities associated with the failure of the New English, a failure both to fully realize its own radical possibilities and to recognize the changing conditions underlying contemporary curriculum and schooling, in what is clearly an emergent cultural-ideological formation predicated on new principles of social integration and moral order. The study concludes with a brief assessment of new possibilities for English curriculum praxis in postmodern conditions, suggesting that the notions of rhetoric and cultural studies are important considerations in and for the reconstruction of English teaching as critical-postmodernist pedagogy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): O'Toole, Michael, Tripp, David, Reid, Ian, Rizvi, Fazal and Hodge, Bob
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