School reading texts require greater diversity: QUT research

Authorised text lists for school students should represent diverse sexual identities and issues of sexual difference, QUT researchers Dr Kelli McGraw and Dr Lisa van Leent argue in the latest issue of English in Australia.

Dr McGraw and Dr van Leent, from the Faculty of Education, analysed the Australian Curriculum Senior Secondary English sample text list of 21 fiction and non-fiction works for representation of LGBTIQ+ identities and experiences and relationships.

They found only two fiction books – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – contained protagonists, characters, experiences or relationships outside of the heterosexual norm.

They argue that a lack of queer identities or themes in the sample texts could send a message that “diverse genders and sexualities have no place in ‘our’ world and are best studied at a safe distance”.

With 10 per cent of the population identifying as LGBTIQ+, the authors say that creators of authorised text lists should list texts that “represent diverse sexual identities and issues of sexual difference and diversity, and texts that are equitably accessible to a wider range of students in English”.

“… features such as appropriate content, literary quality, and variety of language modes and text production mediums can all be achieved with the inclusion of LGBTIQ+ identities,” they write.

“By queering the senior English sample text list in the Australian Curriculum and exploring the work that literature, identity and sexualities can do, at the very least, LGBTIQ+ youth will see aspects of their lives reflected at school.

“Young peoples’ lives are too often silenced through heteronormative practices both within schools and in the institution of schooling itself.”

Dr McGraw and Dr van Leent, who also presented their research findings at the Australian Association for Research in Education conference in December, resist the argument that “students studying English in secondary school are not mature enough to discuss sexuality, as well as the notion that conversations about diverse sexual identities are inappropriate for English teachers to engage, particularly once students are in Years 11 and 12 and preparing to enter the adult world”.

Dr Kelli McGraw and Dr Lisa van Leent.

Their article, Textual Constraints, is one of 13 in the ‘Love in English’ themed issue of English in Australia, the peer-reviewed national journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE).

Dr McGraw and Dr van Leent also collaborated with Professor Brenton Doecke as special editors of the issue, which responds to discussions raised during campaigning for the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal survey and subsequent amendments to the Marriage Act allowing same-sex couples to wed.

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