Dumping TAFE writing courses silences the disenfranchised
Three large TAFEs have abandoned their Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) courses, closing the door on one of the longest-running vocational courses and blocking an avenue to employable skills, writes Swinburne PWE teacher Nicolas Brasch in an opinion piece published in The Age.
When most people think of TAFEs they think of apprenticeships and trade training. My experiences are in a very different area, and it is an area that has been at the forefront of cuts in recent years.
Last year Holmesglen Institute of TAFE announced it was ending its Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) course, one of the longest-running vocational courses of its kind in Victoria. The year before Box Hill Institute of TAFE made the same decision. The year before it was Chisholm Institute.
"So what?" you ask. "Who needs such courses? They're just an indulgence."
Well they're not. For one thing, vocational-education PWE courses provide many disenfranchised and marginalised people with a voice. Many of those who enrol in PWE courses at this level, both young and mature, do not have the funds, the confidence or the educational background to go straight to university.
To take even this step has been huge. For some, they are the first in their family to have even walked through the front gate of a tertiary institution. For others, their previous institution involved nightly lockdown and laundry duties. Some don't have a permanent home; many scrape together the fare to get to class.
Dyslexia, ADD and Asperger's are not uncommon conditions among the students. A great many have mental health issues – and that's probably what draws them to a PWE course; after all, many of the most creative and artistic people in history had similar issues.
Once in class they are shown how to tell their stories. They are guided through the process of reaching into their mind, foraging through their experiences and imagination, and translating them to the page – whether in the form of a short story, novel, script or poem. They are taught about sentence construction and introduced to professional writers, editors and publishers.
Most importantly of all, they slowly gain the confidence to reveal themselves and to realise that their story (and their life) is worthwhile. Indeed, it is precious. TAFE PWE courses give them a voice – a very powerful voice, particularly when they go on to get published, as many of them do. Maybe it's the power of their voices that others are frightened of.
When they graduate, many take the next step and enrol in degree courses, something they would never have dreamt of a couple of years beforehand. Some find work in communications departments of major companies or within government. Some become editors – for traditional and online publications. Some have the confidence to self-publish and self-promote, becoming authorpreneurs. All are far more adept than they were at communicating their thoughts. The experience empowers them and changes their lives.
As if that's not enough to argue for the future of such courses, in addition they provide the community and business with well-trained communication professionals. All who graduate have to have achieved competency in a range of writing and editing subjects.
Companies that bemoan the quality their employees' grammar should hire those with TAFE PWE credentials. Pedants who write to newspaper editors with corrections to that day's copy should recommend that today's journalists be required to complete a PWE course.
Parents who complain about errant apostrophes and unstructured sentences in school newsletters should email a link to a PWE course to the volunteer responsible.
If things are bad now, how bad will they be if the few remaining PWE courses at this level in Victoria follow in the footsteps of those recently deceased?
These courses matter – they matter a great deal. Like the lives and voices of those who enrol, they are precious.
Nicolas Brasch is a writer, PWE teacher at Swinburne University, and Deputy Chair of Writers Victoria.
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