From daily The Guardian in Britain:
Spurr, a consultant to the federal government’s national English curriculum review, has been suspended over ‘serious allegations’, university says
Friday 17 October 2014 04.25 BST
The University of Sydney has suspended Prof Barry Spurr over emails in which he called the prime minister, Tony Abbott, an “Abo lover”, Indigenous Australians “human rubbish tips” and Nelson Mandela as a “darky”.
In a statement, the university said Spurr was facing “serious allegations in relation to offensive emails sent from a university account”.
Spurr, a poetry expert, was a specialist consultant to the federal government’s national curriculum review looking at English from foundation to year 12.
The emails, first obtained by website New Matilda, have seriously damaged the review’s findings, with Labor calling them “tainted” and the Australian Education Union saying the review had been exposed as “an ideological waste of time from the start”.
In a series of emails over two years sent to senior academics and officials within the university, Spurr wrote that Abbott would have to be surgically separated from his “Siamese twin”, Australian of the Year and AFL star Adam Goodes, who is Aboriginal.
The national curriculum review, released this month, largely accepted Spurr’s recommendations regarding the teaching of English. He had asserted in his report to the review that “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal” and advised a greater emphasis on the western literary canon.
The university said Spurr was immediately suspended from teaching and was “precluded from attending any university campus while the matter is investigated and dealt with in accordance with the terms of the university’s enterprise agreement”.
“Racist, sexist or offensive language is not tolerated at the University of Sydney.”
The government-appointed heads of the curriculum review, Dr Kevin Donnelly and Prof Ken Wiltshire, chose Spurr as a specialist consultant on English.
Donnelly told Guardian Australia he had not heard of the email story and “would have to Google it”. “I have no comment.” Wiltshire did not respond to requests for comment.
The education minister, Christopher Pyne, attempted to distance the government from the controversy, saying the subject experts were chosen by the independent review and that the government had no involvement. Pyne rejected the denigration of minority groups, saying it was “repugnant”.
Spurr was a well-known conservative critic of the national curriculum before his appointment to review English. In 2010 he contributed to a critique published by the the libertarian think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.
In his chapter, Spurr was scathing about the curriculum proposed by the former Labor government. “An empty generosity is proposed, bloated with ramifying detail and long on windy rhetoric, an obesity of the mind: short on nourishing, intellectually-bracing substance. It is the educational equivalent of fast food.”
He also stressed the importance of studying the Bible as “essential” throughout a child’s learning. “The biblical story of Noah’s ark is an obvious example of the kind of text to which the youngest children will be drawn and it can begin their introduction to the ‘great code’ of literature in English.
He has published books including Studying Poetry, See the Virgin Blest: Representations of the Virgin Mary in English Poetry and Anglo-Catholic in Religion: TS Eliot and Christianity.
Spurr’s expert advice to the national curriculum was influential, with most of his recommendations accepted in the final report. He criticised the emphasis on Aboriginal texts, saying the “the impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially that from Britain, on our literary culture”.
He noted that the curriculum suggested reading texts that made links between students’ lives and texts about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. “Why aren’t texts mentioned that might establish links between young Australian children’s lives and those from Europe or North America? Why must the linkage be confined to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander texts?”
The review recommended that there should be a “greater emphasis on dealing with and introducing literature from the western literary canon, especially poetry,” which Spurr had urged. It also recommended a “stronger emphasis on exemplary literary texts”, with less focus on “children creating their own literature”, again, a recommendation of Spurr.
In one of the emails published by New Matilda written on 19 April this year, Spurr reveals that Pyne wanted him to compare Australian school curriculums with curriculums from other countries.
“The Californian high school English curriculum has arrived (as Pyne wants me to compare ours with other countries). Another 300 pages of reading!
“And whereas the local curriculum 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).”
On Friday, Abbott said he had seen a report about the emails, but ‘“I haven’t had much of a chance to read it yet and I’m not easily upset, I’ve got to say, so I’ll study it closely.”
Shorten said Abbott’s remarks were inadequate. “It is not right when you are the leader of this country to simply laugh off racism. It’s not leadership to not stand up for minorities, to not recognise that what makes this country great is that we come from a hundred different countries, and that adds to the richness of who we are.”
“The government needs to explain and reassure Australians that the view of the reviewer and the disgusting remarks have not infiltrated the curriculum that is taught to all young Australians.”
The federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said the emails exposed the national curriculum review as ideological.
“It is clear that Professor Spurr’s independent review of the English curriculum had a strong influence on the final review, which quotes him extensively.
“While Pyne can try and distance himself from these shocking remarks, he cannot change the fact that the curriculum review has been tainted by the people that have been chosen to contribute to it.”