The National Curriculum, the cane, and Kevin Donnley

Professor Barry Spurr’s downfall was not considered incidental but the result of a political conspiracy against the then freshly released National curriculum review. Spurr and a few other supporters believed that New Maltida had targeted at them in order to attack the government.  Spurr, as one of the 15 experts appointed by the Education Minister’s two men review panel, reviewed the English curriculum.  His view on the newly minted national curriculum English is surprisingly similar to Dr Kevin Donneley’s, a full professor of education at Australia Catholic University who is the chair of an one-men not for profit educational consultancy and on the two-men review panel that led the review.

Spurr’s report in this regard may conjure up allegations of academic cronyism as his conclusion echoes neatly with Donneley’s early advocacy that the Australia curriculum has sidelined the Western, Judio-Crhistrian tradition for being too pro-Asian and -aboriginal. He even stressed a lack of biblical references in the new curriculum. Many would see their view as criticism against multiculturalism but few would question their passion for continuing the so-called universal value imbued in the western civilization, even though their insistence on the biblical references is seemingly ridiculous.

However, under the context of anti-immigration campaigns in Australia and several European countries such as Germany and France, such an insistence is not surprising. The New-Nazi xenophobia is disguised in the veil of so-called Judeo-Christian value system and any other ethnic purification campaigns. At its extreme would be purge of the aliens or any exotic, assimilation/integration-resistant living beings.  Strangely, compassion and acquiescence towards such purge-prone sentiment are often pervasive in that their view is staunchly conservative, speaking to the traditions, truths, and classics, as has been captured by the bleak movie trilogy The Purge.  Conservatives seen in this haze is an honorable term that has no connotations for the left or the right wing but a symbol for acting on principles.

Being conservative is nevertheless equivalent to being careful with, and or nostalgic of, values, beliefs and principles. However, without delimiting its scope with certain conditions, it has little or no credibility in offering credible interpretations or can stand fast as a principle. In fact, it can be discredited quickly in their followers’/advocates’ own practices. Dr Donnelly, for instance, has made himself headlines again lately while claiming the benefit of reintroducing the cane to school, one of the many tools for conducting corporeal punishment. It is not surprising that as a school principal himself in the 70s and 80s, he was candid in equating disciplining to (the pathway to) education. With regard to his advocacy for the Judo-Christian value in education, the cane unmistakably embodies power to domesticate its participants, for conformist good manners regardless of their group or individual identifications. Again, Donnelly is not a lone wolf. Similar zombie ideas, proposals, and policies have resurrected and started to remerge lately in education, politics, and many other pockets of our contemporary society. Some UK schools, for instance, have boasted about plans for recruiting former militants to discipline their pupils to ensure effective education delivery.

The cane is neither dead, repackaged as a preservation-worthy tradition, nor will it depart as an embodiment of power. The Nazis are never buried to vanish their returns in the name of preserving traditions, heritage, characters, and strengths. The conservatives will never give in when they send missionaries to preach traditional values: nostalgic, displaced, but romanticized. The argument both Spurr and Donneley have tried to market resonates with their conservative stance and the so-called tradition, value, and ideologies without the white being ostentatiously flagged as the referent. In many ways, they deflect criticisms as a safe haven for the Donneleys and Spurrs to continue their amusement at others’ bewilderment. The problem is: when the cane is conveniently and systemically manipulated by the state to abuse its non-mainstream/conformist citizens, be it discursive, symbolic, or physical, the abused may resort to various possible means including violence or barbarian actions to avenge. Terror is the last and easiest means for the repressed to feel empowered at all cost. Even worse, it can be inevitably manipulated by those who are thirsty for power and control, as history has repeatedly been producing instances, from Lenin, Starlin, Hitler, to Mao Zedong. The recent tragedy at Paris in which twelve people at a satirical magazine was murdered by a three armed ISIS terrorists may serve a footnote. However admirable the 44 world leaders are when joining the post-massacre protest, the problem persists, as was captured aphoristically in Foucault’s argument:

“…the State is no longer an instrument that one race uses against another: the State is, and must be, the protector of the integrity, the superiority, and the purity of the race…racism is born at the point when the theme of racial purity replaces that of race struggle, and when counterhistory begins to be converted into biological racism” (Foucault, 2003, p. 81).

The terror will continue globally as long as the cane of the Judeo-Christian continues in operation.

Pride and prejudice as hidden racism

In the academic circle, Barry Spurr was known as Australia’s first chair professor of poetry serving at the University of Sydney and was well regarded internationally as an established T.S. Eliot scholar before his dramatic suspension. Professor Spurr’s misfortune spiraled on 18 October 2014 when the editor of Newmatilda (, an independent online media, published an email transcript allegedly hacked through Spurr’s university email box.  In those emails, the professor “whimsically” though invariably, played with derogatory, racist terms such as abs and chiken-poohs. He also defamed the indigenous household in his suburb as “tips of rubbish iceberg” and blamed female rape victims for their own irresponsible dress and behaviors.  Newmaltida’s release of some of the emails, sparked swift and intense anger from the public and he was suspended immediately by the University for a thorough investigation.

While looking over the email transcript, I was struck, however, is not by that he is a racist under cover–any one including myself can succumb to some shades of racism at some point of time, wittingly or unwittingly, in a matter of a slip of tongue, mind, or judgment.  Upon reflections on the incident, I became deeply uncomfortable with this accomplished scholar’s pride, of being a member of the white, of being part of the Western civilization, and of being a gatekeeper of the standard to decide on the inclusion and exclusion of people. Without a doubt, he is a sensible person with a sense of social responsibility that is obsessive with a sense of reversed white guilt– a guilt in which white people as his kind must shoulder greater social responsibilities. A super hero complex inbuilt in his sense of whiteness is naturally manifested. It is his responsibility to provide solutions to other inferior people (including white bogans) in the dire of various social problems and to offer rescue.

Identified as a non-white, I am deeply concerned about the literary professor’s deplorable contempt on/ignorance of fundamentals of science and the obliviousness of time and space in his thinking. He is not intentionally anti-intellect but the pride, to a large extent, has led him to such a fate of defeat. He himself is a victim of the whiteness virus by birth or through education and career pursuit and has become a carrier of this virus.  What chilled me even more is that he is not a lone wolf. He has a pack considering his academic ranking and that he is a member of the review panel of Australia’s National Curriculum English. He is the chosen one!

Interestingly on this note is Spurr’s attitude towards the Australian bogan culture.  What at play here elucidates that indeed is not race  or ethnicity that infiltrates Spurr’s conscience but rather than his privilege to be a superior or in other words, to be the powerful, materially or symbolically, a dangerous savior positioning held fast by many members of today’s ivory tower.

Trump Rhetoric: His secret weapon to success (or dictatorship?)

Donald Trump will put an end to "nation building" and instead focus on ... All talks about Donald Trump’s antics are on his shrewd showmanship which is indisputably effective, in retaining attention and drowning criticisms. But critics have taken no note of the power of his language, as well as his way of performing his language in texts such as his campaign speeches and press conference rants. Instead they ridicule it, ruthlessly and stupidly. Media coverage is flooded by the kind of comments such as Year 3 grammar and vocabulary, grammatical mistakes, typos, overtly simple text structure, illogical arguments …The list goes on. All of them certainly make sense if Trump’s language is compared with the style shared by the past US presidents and contemporary world leaders which is polished, grammatical, conspicuously academic, and unmistakably elite like. The kind of questions here I’d like to ask is: is this style really typical of the elite? Or is it simply outdated and out of touch.

Frustrated by Trump’s rusty-belt support, appeal to the lower-income white families, and so-called anti-intellect trend, very few critics and activists have calmed down and reflect on our language practices. For instances. How do we create text in digital times on our phone, blog, Facebook, and Twitter? Do we really use those classic rhetorical devices and the text conventions mediated by the print? Not really. In fact, over the past 20 years, our text practices and training basically have been turned upside down while we are migrating to the digital space. It seems the majority of us are doing well and are ripping all kinds of benefit from this change. To just name a few: speedy communications, easy access, and diverse channels and media.

But surprisingly and unfortunately, the majority of politicians and educators share the same front in language education and are active in condemning the new landscape of literacy education. They are worried about the Generation Y: too much screen time, lack of handwriting, dwindling interest in classic literature, too much video/VR gaming, insatiable texting… The list goes on, as well, and certainly it is an ominous sign of downgrading literacy and constitutes literacy jeopardy . To rescue the new generations, they throw billions of dollars into implementing conceivable sorts of standardized tests to name and shame students, schools, and universities and restore the old, outdated literacy skills. Many mainstream media are trapped in this mentality and have become accomplice in redistributing this discourse, uncritically.

Well this may seem ironic, or even trivial. But triviality is often where rebellion and revolution originate, if we genuinely believe those famous sayings that words are swords and that texts (discourse, narratives, etc.) have power. In retrospect, we must reassess Trump’s language and the texts he and his team are creating. They are not Year 3 level and they are embraced by the Gen Y dearly, wittingly and unwittingly. It really does not matter what type of membership we are holding. As Trump is a successful show business veteran, he understands and uses our language and texts all too well and he has been performing by exactly the same script to grab our eyes and hearts. To sum up with a blunt and bleak statement: we are all Trump fans, subconsciously. And even more troubling is: virtually, Trump has no rivals among his contemporaries in creating and performing our text . It is no secret that Trump will continue instigating controversies and causing serious problems, unless brave leaders of the Gen Y are willing to stand up.

Multimodal textuality

​New literacy is built upon change of text. Understanding what a text is is essential in this sense to our understanding of new literacy as well as the pedagogy. However, the kind of research including theorisation so far has only touched upon the surface of this shift regardless of whether we are talking about semiotic texts or social texts or whether pragmatics can be applied to the study on multimodal text. The latter is in fact quite useful, if we could extend its definition from language in use to modality/mode in use. But again, first of all, we have to rethink at a micro-level of text rather than reiterating the now commonsensical perception that multiple modes can be put together to formulate a text.  In other words, we need to understand how textual elements are organised to redefine many macro-level representations such as genre and discourse, specifically.  In fact, through the lens of multimodality, we should and can rethink many  textual conventions.  For example, recount in school setting is commonly taught as a written  text type that usually involves certain textual features such as orientation, development, and coda. But with multimodality,  it is possible for student to simply record a recount or compose  a doc in which hyperlinks, images, and videos are embedded. In this sense, the text type is still recount and the generic structure may stay the same. However, many textual  features can be very different. In the case of a recorded audio or video text, it may be possible to notice many new features such as repetition, pause, missing words/links, and more complex clause patterns. In the case of multimodal composition, it is  possible to notice dilalogues that used to be inserted with double quotation marks are now replaced by short, edited audios or videos. 

Such a change of text type has challenged us to think even further and question the definition of many terms. For example, when a teacher is preparing a  lesson to teach connectives between clauses or between paragraphs, traditionally what comes to his/her mind are such words and collocations such as and, but, however, yet, consequently, insofar, and nevertheless.  But in a multimodal text, first, the functions of such connections may be replaced, say, by images, sound, beats, or emoticons; and second, there might be much greater flexibility in terms of using connectives since they are no longer limited to the written forms. Similarly,  we may have to rethink rhetoric or stylistic devices such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification, and ominopohs. We may want to know if an image can perform the function of metaphor in the expression that he is as strong as horse by juxtaposing images of a man’s muscle and a horse. In the case of ominopheolged, probably we can do much better. For example, even though we would write something like: the dog barks, but in reality, we know that dogs never talk that way; and in fact, very few discursive imitations of natural sounds are accurate. However, since it is now feasible to capture and locate such sound from database, it would be much desirable to embed authentic sounds.   

A forward look at the Brexit

The Brexit is a new milestone of democracy and foretells how a prosperous, free state should be organised in response to the market and digital challenges. The post-Brexit era will see the inevitable collapse of the EU. It will also present a death toll for mega federations such as the US, India, Russia, and even Australia. Ever increasing population and diversity will eventually drive them apart into forming relatively smaller sovereign states capable of maintaining law and order, as well as looking after wellbeing of the marginalised. Autocratic empires such as China that are clinging to assimilation and stability will have no place in such an era. They will not need any external interventions to falter; they will fall apart themselves and then into decades or even centuries of turmoil and recession. By all means, they will become the biggest threat to the world peace and prosperity, and even trigger another world war, if not contained proactively through the democratic determination heralded by the Brexit.