Shakespeare Versus Text Messages and Facebook

Kompas.com - 18/10/2010, 12:17 WIB
EditorJimmy Hitipeuw

KOMPAS.com - As parents struggle to wrench their children away from social networking sites, the new national curriculum will encourage them to spend even more time looking at Facebook and text messages.

And while blogs might play a significant role in promoting a healthy democracy, studying them as a piece of literature in an already crowded English curriculum, could turn out to be a big waste of valuable learning time.

The draft national curriculum for year 11 and 12 students lists email, text messages, social networking sites and blogs in its draft curriculum for senior high school students.

It also includes newspapers, magazines, films including Billy Elliot, The Castle, Up in the Air and digital texts such as Dust Echoes, a series of animated Aboriginal dreamtime stories. And it suggests students look at the placement of advertising in the mass media.

Episodes of the ABC television series Australian Story are also included for study, as are Australian plays – Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and David Williamson's The Club, and American author F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. Shakespeare and Jane Austen are survivors.

Students sitting the advanced English exam in the Higher School Certificate have studied a museum exhibit of September 11 artifacts. While interesting, it remains to be seen how valuable an exercise this proves to be.

During the 1980s, the University of Sydney tested its first year English literature students in functional grammar. Most students failed, having learned at school that there is no such thing as correct grammar - it needed only be appropriate to the context in which it was used. This meant that saying ‘‘I don’t know nothing’’ was neither correct, nor incorrect.

It was said to be appropriate if the speaker’s meaning was conveyed. It is difficult to see how this approach served its students well.

You can justify Marxist and feminist approaches to literary criticism if students have a mature and thorough understanding of their Shakespeare texts.

But it is not clear how studying text messages and social networking sites will contribute to valuable learning.

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