Magwitch madness: Archive fever and the teaching of Australian literature in subject English is an article by Larissa McLean Davies. Published in 2011, it exemplifies some of the issues and concerns facing teachers of English.
I meet my colleague Paul in the Year 10 locker area. It is May, and as grey as the girls’ kilts. We sigh as we pass one another. Around us, girls reapply lip-gloss and boys kick half-eaten fruit until they are told to put it in the bin. ‘I’m so sick of sad bloody Australians,’ Paul says. I nod, understanding from a previous conversation that he isn’t talking about the students shoving the last of their toasted cheese sandwiches into their mouths. He’s talking about Leon, in Lantana, and Jerra Nilsam, the protagonist of Winton’s short story anthology Minimum of Two. He’s talking about Australian texts, or, to be fair, our English department’s selection of those set for study for the Victorian Certificate of Education (the VCE).
‘Bring on the sad Americans,’ I joke, knowing that Arthur Miller’s A View from a Bridge and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American are still to come. At the mention of these classic texts, Paul brightens a little.
‘At least they’re…,’ but he doesn’t finish this sentence and I’m left speculating on the ‘superiority’ of sad Americans and the general resistance to Winton amongst the students, and some teachers.
The bell rings, and I turn my attention to the books and materials needed for the final two classes of the day. It is only much later, when reflecting on our interaction amidst the chaos of lunchtime, that I become aware that in these conversations, as well as in our classrooms, Paul and I are rehearsing our identity as English teachers, and in doing so, negotiating notions of culture, nation and ideology that implicitly inform our practice.
Excerpt from: ‘Magwitch madness: Archive fever and the teaching of Australian literature in subject English.’ By Larissa McLean Davies. From: Teaching Australian Literature: From Classroom Conversations to National Imaginings. Ed. Brenton Doecke, Larissa McLean Davies, and Philip Mead. 2011. 129-152.