Dazed and Theorized

Apparently in Australia schoolchildren are being taught Theory. Or postmodernism, or critical literacy, or deconstruction, or cultural relativism. Poor little tads. Bad enough there are all those dingoes around eating your babies – but critial literacy theory for schoolchildren? Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream?

For Australian academics John Stephens, Ken Watson and Judith Parker, compilers of the manual From Picture Book to Literary Theory, the story of the Three Little Pigs is really about “the virtues of property ownership and the safety of the private domain” — both “key elements of liberal/capitalist ideology”.

Mind you – there is interesting stuff about the not very hidden messages in fairy tales – Jack Zipes, Marina Warner, and the like – but they’re slightly more subtle than those Australian academics sound, and anyway I didn’t read them when I was ten.

But postmodernism’s intellectual assumptions – truth is a matter of opinion, there is no real world outside of language and hence no facts independent of our descriptions of them – render it an entirely inappropriate teaching tool in an era of information excess. As Julian Baggini, editor and co-publisher of The Philosopher’s Magazine, observes in Making Sense, Philosophy Behind the Headlines, that cultural relativism is widespread in the classroom.

But in From Picture Book to Literary Theory, a booklet addressed to teachers pushing the barrow of postmodern theory in the classroom, edited by academics JohnStephens, Ken Watson and Judith Parker, John Brown demonstrates to students the way in which we are socially constructed as readers.

From Picture Book to Literary Theory – doesn’t that just make you laugh and laugh? From the Little Red Hen to Grammatology, from the Mary Poppins to Discipline and Punish, from Five Children and It to Social Text. Makes you wish you were a child again, doesn’t it?

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