Diversity or perversity?: Award-winning children's literature and the Australian curriculum
Hateley, Erica (2014) Diversity or perversity?: Award-winning children's literature and the Australian curriculum. In Children's Literature Association (ChLA) Conference 2014 : Diverging Diversities : Plurality in Children’s and Young Adult Literature Then and Now, 18-21 June 2014, Columbia Marriott, Columbia, SC. (Unpublished)
Two of the three cross-curriculum priorities for the national Australian Curriculum prescribed by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) are focussed on what might be called diversity education: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture”, and "Asia and Australia's Engagement with Asia” (ACARA, “Cross”). One need not be versed in complex rhetorical theory to understand that, laudable and legitimate as such priorities are, their existence implies that mainstream education in Australia has been or is characterised by the marginalisation or erasure of Australia's history—the original Indigenous cultures are not only living and vibrant today, but also have tens of thousands of years’ “head start” on Australia’s settler cultures—and of its geography—Australia is, after all, located in some physical proximity to Asia. Some might even suggest that Australia is in Asia. These temporal and spatial “forgettings” constitute a kind of cultural perversity which the cross-curricular priorities both seek to address and serve to reinscribe.
Even as ACARA requires Australian school students to engage with Aboriginal and Asian histories, cultures, societies, they imply that such histories, cultures, and societies are “diverse”, that they are not those of the students in Australian classrooms; producing them as objects of study rather than as lived experience. This should not necessarily be surprising. Michael W. Apple has provocatively argued that: “one of the perverse effects of a national curriculum actually will be to ‘legitimise inequality.’ It may in fact help create the illusion that whatever the massive differences in schools, they all have something in common” (18). In the Australian context, attempts to mitigate such perversity are articulated via the selection of literary texts. As educators move to resource ACARA’s cross-curricular priorities, ACARA notes that “Teachers and schools are best placed to make decisions about the selection of texts in their teaching and learning programs that address the content in the Australian Curriculum while also meeting the needs of the students in their classes” (ACARA, “Advice”). This assertion appears on a webpage called “Advice on selection of literary texts” which is notable first and foremost for its total lack of any literary texts being named, and its list of weblinks pointing to lists of texts compiled elsewhere, by other organisations, and in the main, compiled to serve agendas other than the Australian curriculum.
One of the major resources referred to by ACARA for literary text selection is the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). Of course, the CBCA’s annual book awards do not share ACARA’s educational priorities, but do have a history of being drawn upon by schools as a curriculum resource. In this paper, I consider the literary texts which have been prized by the CBCA in recent years attending to their engagements with Aboriginal cultures.
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