Oh, NSW Board of Studies, hear my plea: stop forcing me to agree with Miranda Devine. The state of your English curriculum is appalling, and you know why? Because it’s not, in fact, an English curriculum, so much as a bastardised, non-historical departure into post-modern wank. Ignoring the hideousness of placing pop songs and advertising on the same cultural footing as Shakespeare, there is nothing elitist in acknowledging that different media are designed for different ends, and while it’s possible to consider a level of ironic social commentary in Britney Speares songs, there’s a point beyond which you cannot go. Unlike Don McLean’s American Pie, with its moving lyrics, musical historicity and devout poetry, Toxic is not attempting to communicate anything below the surface. American Pie is worth studying, not because it’s a song, but because it’s a good song, both in its own right and for the purpose. Toxic isn’t.
Because when you set out to distance yourself from ‘elitism’ and all its permutations, you are intrinsically negating the concept of quality. The argument that all forms are equal is tantamount, in this instance, to saying that all examples of a given form are equal: that there is no innate difference in skill, purpose or structure between Beethoven’s 9th and the Coca Cola jingle. Logically and intuitively, this perception goes against everything we understand about the world. To quote The Incredibles, a useful film for discussing homogeneity vs tall poppy syndrome, calling everyone special is just another way of saying that no-one is. And when you take down the jargon, the oh-so-cringeworthy NewSpeak in which you feel frighteningly compelled to couch your arguments, you are effectively advocating cultural assimilation. If there is no innate difference between the substance of Sylvia Plath and a Mr Sheen add – if you take all the wild, ritous variety of the creative world and declare it to be identical, forcing each vibrant shape into the drab grey monotone of texthood – then it is you, Herr Doktor, who are running the police state, garbing the populace in prison smocks and shaving their obedient, cowering heads.
Board of Studies, some animals are not more equal than others. Power is also a form of elitism, especially if it brooks no argument, and when you actively punish students for disagreeing with the conclusions of the syllabus – regardless of how intelligently dissenters might argue their point – you are placing the highest value, not on critical thinking, but on conformity. Critical thinking: one of the much-touted ‘outcomes’ of HSC English. Now there’s an irony. Herr God, Herr Lucifer: beware, beware. Your brightest students, the ones who care about literature, are the ones disagreeing so vociferously. It shows they’ve been paying attention. They do not like what they see. And neither, by all accounts, do their teachers.
Since completing the NSW HSC in 2003, I’ve been howling into the void about your damn imbecility. I have poured thousands of words, hours of my life, into trying to understand why, despite spending most of Year 12 reading books or writing my own, I came to loathe 2 Unit English with a fiery vengeance. Nobody would listen then, because the views of a mere student and teenager to boot were universally declared to be irrelevant. Nobody listens now, either, because I’m not a teacher, a journalist or a member of the Board of Studies. No – I’m just a literate, eloquent reader who’s been through the system, who’s seen what it looks like from both sides, and has had five years to think about it.
And you know what?
I still think you’re wrong.
In fact, I believe it. Powerfully. Call it a chip on my shoulder, highschool bitterness carried oh-so-unfortunately into adult life, but the gauntlet has been thrown. Out of the ash I rise with my red hair, o Board. And I eat men like air.