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Christie F, Macken-Horarik M. Disciplinarity and School Subject English. 2011.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/10611
Disciplinarity and School Subject English
In subject English it is the language itself that is both the instrument of teaching and learning (a characteristic shared with other subjects), and the object of study (a characteristic not shared with most others). This remains true, even today when the English classroom often includes examination of visual and multimodal texts, such as images, films or videos. For reasons we reviewed in a previous discussion (Christie and Macken-Horarik 2007), subject English has tended to proliferate a range of different models over its history, and with the passage of time its criteria for assessing students' performance have become increasingly invisible. In our earlier discussion we extended Bernstein's analysis of knowledge structures (2000) to address school curriculum knowledge structure and argued that the emergence of the various models of subject English had reflected its status as a subject whose school curriculum knowledge structure is 'horizontal'. That is, we proposed that unlike the hierarchical curriculum knowledge structures of subjects found in the sciences, those of school English build, not through achieving some 'generality and integrating property' of information and principles (Bernstein 2000: 162), but through periodically proposing a 'new language' - one that 'offers the possibility of a fresh perspective, a new set of questions, a new set of connections, and an apparently new problematic, and most importantly a new set of speakers'. Many models of school English have emerged over the years, their presence remarked by several writers (e.g. Christie et al. 1991; Goodwyn 2003, Thomson 2004; Locke 2005; Green and Cormack 2008; Sawyer 2005), though their status vis a vis each other has not been well theorized or explained. ... In this chapter we seek to move on from our earlier deliberations and to look more closely at how we might define the disciplinarity of school English from a linguistic point of view. If, as we have noted, it is the language that is instrument and object of study, is there a way the apparently incommensurate models of English often revealed in a reading of English curricula can be brought into greater commensurability? How might we render more explicit what features all its various models have in common? If we did this, could we demonstrate that the various 'gazes' associated with the different models of English represent at best only partial 'takes' on language, each model privileging only some knowledge about language (KAL) at the expense of others?