One would have thought he’d be too busy getting his new opera company off
the ground, but Richard Gill has managed to find time to fire a new salvo in the
so-called culture wars. Gill, the director of the recently launched Victorian Opera and a highly
respected music educator, has joined the noisy chorus of – mostly conservative –
voices blaming “deconstructionist” thinking for dumbing down education.

In a tirade Gill penned for The Australian
today, he sledges Western Australia’s new secondary music curriculum, which he
describes as “the most confusing and bemusing document on music education I have
read in 43 years as a practising teacher”. While he acknowledges that the new curriculum may be an improvement on WA’s
old Tertiary Entrance Examination, Gill can’t understand why it is written “in
the sort of deconstructionist curriculum language that frustrates teachers and
confuses students”.

In attacking the document’s language, Gill’s own language is
extraordinarily blunt, and refreshingly so for someone so senior in the arts. Here’s an example:

So I am going
for the jugular; I am going in boots-and-all to attack this document because I
am sick to death of reading meaningless pap when it involves music. Music
teachers must take a stand against this emasculation of our subject. We are fast
becoming the land of the bland in which all things are equal and there is no
more distinction or distinctiveness.

The important point to make about Gill’s outburst is that he could hardly
be described as a conservative, certainly not in a political sense. And even
from an artistic perspective, while he is most definitely steeped in the
traditions of fine music, his record shows that he has no reservations about
embracing the new. Nevertheless, by launching his attack in The Australian, Gill
has chosen the soapbox favoured by the most trenchantly conservative forces in
the education debate, so he’s left himself exposed to being accused of singing a
reactionary tune.

It would be a pity, however, if his criticism was dismissed as such,
particularly when the issues he raises apply to all areas of education in the
arts, as Gill himself points out:

This is the sort of ill-informed claptrap we have been subjected to
during the past ten years from documents that reek of the generic curriculum into
which you can substitute dance, drama, painting, and is the type of anonymous
prose that incites anger and frustration in those members of the profession who
really can teach.