Securing and policing literacy pedagogy: ‘literacy' as a watchword

Year: 2013

Author: Carter, Jenni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Neoliberal education reforms have been ordered around axioms that posit ‘Good' education as guaranteeing human capital formation and the operation of an education marketplace. Such reforms have sought to narrowly define literacy within tightly framed pedagogies that constitute a method or technique.  To make policy that reaches into the realm of the curriculum and the classroom, governments have deployed a range of strategies that seek to establish their authority and legitimacy as well as securing its policy priorities.
In this paper I examine the literacy policy trajectories of the Australian Commonwealth government during the Howard and Gillard governments. An important strategy used by government is the adoption and deployment of ‘watchwords' which Derrida describes as a ‘rallying cry' around which the relations between name, concept and reality are ordered. Within policy ‘watchwords' perform a policing role, keeping guard over particular interests to maintain a normative order.
In this paper I discuss literacy as a watchword, where Commonwealth policy has sought to legitimate those  approaches  to literacy pedagogy that support new measurement strategies and performative discourses within public policy debates, while making illegitimate ways of thinking otherwise. In this paper, the emphasis is on identifying the ways in which literacy pedagogy is portrayed by the State to both legitimate and police the meanings that underpin its view of good education.
This paper points to the importance of considering the ways in which the State secures neoliberal approaches to education through the cooption of key educational terms and practices.  These enable the mobilisation of new strategies to monitor and measure educational practices and the nature of educators work. Further, attention is drawn to how the State develops key alliances with the media, and the academy to assist in promoting and policing educational meanings that are embedded within policy reform. Importantly, this paper raises questions about the ways in which new ways of forming and securing education policy can be considered within understandings of democracy and justice.