Yesterday Matilda published THE TRANSCRIPTS: The Partial Works Of Professor Barry Spurr. Poet, Racist, Misogynist.
New Matilda has been accused of quoting Professor Barry Spurr out of context. Here’s a partial transcript of his exchanges. You can decide for yourself.
The following is an edited transcript of some of the emails from Professor Barry Spurr which have beem leaked to New Matilda.
Professor Spurr is based at the University of Sydney, and served as a consultant on the Abbott Government’s review of the National School Curriculum.
The emails were sent to friends and colleagues at the University of Sydney over a two year period, from September 2012 to late 2014.
Professor Spurr has maintained that the emails were a ‘whimsical linguistic game’, and that they were largely restricted to a bit of ‘oneupmanship’ between himself and an old friend.
New Matilda is releasing a partial transcript of the emails in order to allow readers to make up their own minds about the truth of Professor Spurr’s statements….
You may recall that I was somewhat kind about the “whimsical linguistic game” as I had myself, I thought, played analogous games in the past.
Having now read these transcripts I renounce that analogy. These are nothing like the games MJ and I played with Nuttall’s Dictionary of Quotations, nothing at all. They are an insight into a particular kind of conservative mind one finds in certain rather exotic settings. I have known some habitues of certain Oxford Street bars in the past whose discourse was not dissimilar, and I have met the odd bird or two in High Church circles ditto. I hasten to add that I am talking of a particular subgroup in both those (sometimes overlapping) subgroups, not necessarily even a majority. But they do exist and they have for years – and they are ugly.
Given my rather dim view of the Pyne Review I was fascinated by this one, which has not received as much attention as, for example, the appalling one about thoroughly meritorious Australian of the Year Adam Goode.
DATE: April 19, 2014
FROM: Barry Spurr
TO: Friend, Friend
Subject: Churchill in California
The Californian high school English curriculum has arrived (as Pyne wants me to compare ours with other countries). Another 300 pages of reading! Amongst the senior year texts for study are Churchill’s wartime speeches. Imagine setting that for the NSW HSC English. And whereas the local curriculuim has the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ on virtually every one of its 300 pages, the Californian curriculum does not ONCE mention native Americans and has only a very slight representation of African-American literature (which, unlike Abo literature, actually exists and has some distinguished productions).
[A fellow University academic] tells me that at her grand-daughter’s school – [in Sydney] – every day begins with an acknowledgement of the orignal [sic] owners of the land. No flag-raising or national anthem – just this, every day. On the school’s website, it proclaims that it prides itself on its ‘atheletics’ [sic] program.
If ever an education system needed a bomb under it, it’s ours.
Among the senior year texts in NSW 2009-14 we do have:
Non-fiction, Media or Multimedia: Speeches
- Margaret Atwood – ‘Spotty Handed Villainess’, 1994
- Paul Keating – ‘Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier’, 1993
- Noel Pearson – ‘An Australian History for Us All’, 1996
- Ang San Suu Kyi – ‘Keynote Address at the Beijing World Conference on Women’, 1995
- Faith Bandler – ‘Faith, Hope and Reconciliation’, 1999
- William Deane– ‘On the occasion of a Ecumenical Service for the Victims of the Canyoning Tragedy 1999
- Anwar Sadat – ‘Statement to the Knesset’ 1977
The 2006-8 version included Socrates, Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, Emma Goldman, Martin Luther King, Denise Levertov, Vaclav Havel, and Mary McAleese alongside Attwood, Keating, and Noel Pearson — a crib on which (by Lloyd Cameron?) appears in Barry Spurr’s handy HSC guides.
But that is by the by. It does seem to me more than likely that much, if not all, in that “Churchill in California” email is unalloyed Spurr, not some persona of a grumpy old man. It also suggests, perhaps, a review process reaching for preset outcomes — “The Californian high school English curriculum has arrived (as Pyne wants me to compare ours with other countries).”
What do you think of this comment on the New Matilda thread?
Initially I had concerns about whether the disclosure of theses emails violated Spurrs privacy. However given his involvement in the review of the national education curriculum I believe discloure was warranted in the public interest. Spurr has been exposed as a person who holds racist, sexist and other views unacceptable to most Australians. However the time has now been reached where the focus should not ot on Spurr but on Minister Pyne. In particular Pyne needs to be asked whether he agrees that Spurrs views are unacceptable and if so whether he believes Spurr was an aapropriate person to be involved in the review. Finally Pyne should be asked whether he accepts that given Spurrs extreme views the review is hopelessly compromised and needs to be shredded. Any further disclosure by NM of Spurrs emails is likely to appear as persecution and lead to sympathy for him. Spurr is finished. Time to make Pyne accountable.
I partly agree, partly don’t – or would have expressed it differently. What do you think?
Note the built-in slant in this headline from The Australian:
Labor says Professor Spurr’s contribution to a review of the national curriculum means it is now tainted.
But Mr Pyne accused someone of leaking the emails to sabotage the government’s school reforms.
“I don’t endorse the remarks that he made in those emails,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“But it doesn’t mean that the review of the curriculum has in any way been traduced…”
Did he really say “traduced”? (PEDANT ALERT! Traduce: “Speak badly of or tell lies about (someone) so as to damage their reputation.” Didn’t Mr Pyne just mean “affected” or maybe “devalued” or “damaged”? A reviewer might be traduced, but not a review.)
Mind you, given the trend in our security laws lately this may not be so funny…
Again I refer you to my post Right-wing education critique is historically inaccurate and perpetuates myths (2007). Here it is in part:
…The real influence on the so-called New English was, and to a large extent still is, quite other than pomo. It really derives from an international conference on the teaching of English in 1967 at Dartmouth College. Why Johnny can’t write – teaching grammar and logic to college students by Heather MacDonald is a right-wing diatribe from the neocon mag Public Interest, but it at least gets a few things right historically:
Predictably, the corruption of writing pedagogy began in the sixties. In 1966, the Carnegie Endowment funded a conference of American and British writing teachers at Dartmouth College. The event was organized by the Modern Language Association and the National Conference of Teachers of English. The Dartmouth Conference was the Woodstock of the composition professions: It liberated teachers from the dull routine of teaching grammar and logic.
The Dartmouth Conference rejected what was called a “transmission model” of English in favor of a “growth model.” In a transmission mode, teachers pass along composition skills and literary knowledge. In a growth mode, according to Joseph Harris, a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, they focus on students’ “experience of language in all its forms” – including ungrammatical ones. A big problem with the transmission model of English, apparently, is that it implies that teachers actually know more than their students do. In the growth model, in contrast, the teacher is not an authority figure; rather, he is a supportive, nurturing friend, who works with, rather than challenges, what a student has to say. Dartmouth proponents claimed that improvement in students’ linguistic skills need not come through direct training in grammar and style but, rather, would flower incidentally as students experiment with personal and expressive forms of talk and writing.
That is parodic, as anyone who was around at the time knows, and while there were excesses, most teachers managed a paradigm shift without abandoning all that had gone before. My own approach and experience you can read for yourself, and I was far from atypical. I never stopped teaching grammar or spelling; I fancy, however, that I taught both better because I knew why I was teaching them, to whom I was teaching them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of such teaching were. I was not, as in my first year or two, blindly following a dodgy textbook and calling that a program….
Update 9.30 pm
The Sydney University professor suspended over racist emails has taken legal action against the website that published them.
The Federal Court has ordered online magazine New Matilda not to publish further details about Barry Spurr’s leaked emails, which referred to Prime Minister Tony Abbott as an “Abo-lover” and made references to “Mussies” and “Chinky-poos”….
Lawyers for Professor Spurr argued the publication of the emails breached the Privacy Act, and the court granted an injunction preventing publication of any more details before another court hearing on Thursday.
New Matilda editor Chris Graham said Professor Spurr’s legal team was also fighting to have the emails returned, the articles deleted and the source of the leak revealed.
“Hell will freeze over before the last bit happens,” Graham said.
“There’s no way I will ever reveal the source, regardless of how it proceeds. Obviously, ethically, I can’t do it.”
— ABC News
Surely the damage has been done and cannot really be recalled?
Update 22 October 9.45pm
Meanwhile, the federal government’s National Curriculum Review found what it was set up to find, namely that students are not being subjected to sufficient quantities of Western civilisation and edifying Judaeo-Christian values – though the good news is that it’s nothing a good dose of Bible studies won’t fix. No sooner was the report released than Barry Spurr, Professor of Poetry at Sydney University and one of the experts appointed to advise the reviewers, Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor Kenneth Wiltshire, about the English curriculum, gave us a remarkable demonstration of the refining and civilising effects of a lifetime’s immersion in poetry and religious literature. In emails published yesterday in New Matilda, Professor Spurr uses a variety of uncomplimentary epithets to describe Indigenous Australians, Muslims, Chinese people, persons of colour in general, and women. For good measure, he also derides ‘bogans’ and ‘fatsoes’, and singles out Desmond Tutu, Adam Goodes and Nelson Mandela for special attention. Professor Spurr has sought to characterise these emails as satirical and ‘whimsical’. Whether this is indeed the case, or whether he is merely exercising his right to be a bigot (though, to be fair, he does at least seem to be something of an equal opportunity bigot), I think it is fair to conclude, on the basis of the evidence to hand, that humour is not Professor Spurr’s strong suit. Certainly, his employer Sydney University has failed to see the joke and has now moved to suspend him. His comedy stylings did, however, bring to mind Gandhi’s response when asked what he thought about Western civilisation: ‘I think it would be a good idea.”
— Right on, James Ley: Sydney Review of Books.
23 October 2014
Specifically on the “Churchill in California” email and Spurr as consultant see Max Chalmers, Barry Spurr’s Curriculum Wage Revealed As Dept Stands By Pyne.
…Spurr was one of the two consultants tasked with examining the English curriculum, and the only one asked to examine the full syllabus, including the year 11 and 12 courses.
But in response to questions from Senator Wright, members of the Department downplayed his impact on the review.
Paul said the review had been “robust”…
A series of questions about the timing of Spurr’s hiring and which reviewer had suggested him were put on notice.
Wright said Pyne should reconsider the review’s English recommendations in light of the Spurr emails.
“Minister Pyne has been at pains to suggest that his curriculum review, with his hand-picked reviewers, has not been an ideological exercise – but he cannot substantiate this any longer,” Wright said.
“This rushed and premature curriculum review was Minister Pyne’s idea from start to finish. He cannot distance himself now.”…
For a much broader take on the way education is thought of these days in the USA – and here, including under Rudd/Gillard – see Why To Change The Way We Talk About Education.
…Since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, the nation’s schools have been dominated by a regime of standardized testing that started in two grade levels – 4th and 8th – but eventually rolled out to every level for the vast majority of school children. Then, the Obama administration took the policy obsession with testing to extremes. Race to the Top grants and other incentives encouraged school districts to test multiple times throughout the year, and waivers to help states avoid the consequences of NCLB demanded even more testing for the purpose of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools. The latest fad is to test four year olds for their “readiness” to attend kindergarten.
An increasingly loud backlash to the over-emphasis on testing has been growing and spreading among parents, teachers, and students for some time, resulting in mass public rallies, school walkouts, and lawsuits….
And finally on this post – 2.50 pm 23 October
- Barry Spurr drops legal action to force New Matilda to reveal source of emails. The next hearing has been set down for 8 December.
- Barry Spurr v New Matilda: battle lines drawn in landmark privacy case
- Pottymouth professors, privacy and competing public interests by Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law at University of Canberra
From the last one:
For academics, the Spurr Affair is a reminder that all email on a university network – along with records of your browsing – is open to scrutiny by university managers. It is not truly private: if you want “real” privacy use a non-academic account. It is also a reminder that some managers will assert that the email is university rather than personal property, irrespective of whether you’re a pottymouth or a puritan.