The elephant in the classroom: why your teenager really can't write.
Up on the classroom wall of mere six-year-olds at a local school is one of the clever-clogs quotations that are a contradiction in terms. It states that "Illiterate people will not be those who can't read and write, but those who can't learn, unlearn and relearn." As a smart parent points out, it appears to be a bastardised version of something Alvin Toffler borrowed from Herbert Gerjuoy. It basically attempts to equate the importance of literacy to that of simply classifying information.
We should know by now that those who claim that genuine literacy isn't important are either probably those who disparage what they don't have --or are themselves fellow travellers, long working towards doing away with supplying school children with that genuine competence in language use which equips us with the tools of thinking, assessing, and analysing.
The quotation, of course, is important-sounding nonsense. Illiterate people are indeed those who not only can't read and write, but who have also been deprived of the best of what has been said and written in their own language--in particular the English language. Now the world's most important medium of out-reach, globally, it is a treasure trove of our most important writers, historians, philosophers and poets. Yet not only today's students, but even today's parents have been, and continue to be, impoverished intellectually by the by no means accidental withholding of the best of what they could have been taught during those long years of passing through our school system--but have emerged with so little to show for it.
When did we settle for educating our children simply in order to prepare them for the job market--all we hear from politicians such as Steven Joyce? What happened to the vision our former great educationists had of offering children every possible opportunity, right down in the primary school, to early explore the options open for them to see where their real talents might lie? Whether it was to be academic or vocational, a wide range of experiences was once made available. For example, what happened to the quality music and choral singing classes we used to have? Or to the cooking classes primary school children used to attend once a week--cooking and sewing for the girls, woodwork and metalwork for the boys? To overcome budget restrictions, buses used to take Christchurch primary school children once a week to what was then called the Normal School--what would be today's Polytech. Worthwhile practical learning in other areas, too, was systematically offered.
What happened to the weekly swimming classes, with primary school children also bussed to a central, well-maintained swimming pool? In fact, what happened to the teaching of the most useful swimming stroke of all--sidestroke --the survival stroke which all could master--regardless of whether or not a child was able to manage the breathing technique for an over-arm stroke?
It was sidestroke which twice saved my life--once, when I swam out too far to the Caroline Bay raft in Timaru, when celebrating the end of my final year at boarding school. A long, slow breather, I never mastered the quick breathing needed in any other strong stroke. And it was sidestroke which saved me years later, caught in a rip on a Nelson beach, on my birthday.
A variation of sidestroke is taught to United States SEALS (sea, air, land teams) as the ultimate useful endurance stroke. Yet how many New Zealand children drown, because too many schools use the excuse of no swimming pool (which my own primary school in Christchurch never had)?
Why, in some few schools only, are the work experience classes which Queens High School in Dunedin used to offer in the '60s, fifty years ago, only now becoming replicated, and even being hailed as a new initiative? Two or three times weekly, under the guidance of an experienced, competent and caring teacher, girls who were never going to be academically-minded, some of whom found even the commercial shorthand and typing classes difficult, were sent out to gain valuable work experience. Not only did this motivate them and help prepare them for the job market, but many were later head-hunted by employers to whom they were sent.
We are well overdue to insist on an answer to the question: why was so much which was so very worthwhile and varied withdrawn from the curriculum in schools over these recent decades? And why have highly politicised, or basically time-wasting activities, replaced these important learning areas?
Toffler's facile assertion reminds me of the equally spurious claim in a recent University of Otago alumni magazine to the effect that filming and DVD-making is "the new literacy". It isn't of course, but is a very convenient cop-out for schools and for those universities which, for over a half-century and more, have hardly raised a squeak against the level of illiteracy they've been encountering among undergraduate entrants. Many still graduate with no more genuine competence in using the English language than if it were their second language. However, as always, we now have "professional" educationists and prime ministerial advisers claiming we have a world-class education system. But then we are becoming increasingly aware that, largely, only those guaranteed not to rock the boat, and particularly not to contradict conveniently-accepted thinking, are ever appointed to advise a government of the day.
New Zealand parents, viewing the poorly-spoken, barely articulate products of all those years of primary and secondary schooling, are more than overdue to seriously challenge what's happening. It is time, in fact, to get angry at how our young have been cheated. We have the example of the Prime Minister himself, with his mispronunciations, his embarrassing verbal and grammatical faux pas--hastily corrected by his staff. John Key would no doubt score highly as achieving one of the stated prime aims of today's educational gurus--that of producing individuals high in self-esteem. However, many sensible people regard this as a highly flawed philosophy ... in that encouraging children to work to gain their own self-respect, through making the hard choices in life, is far more important than the narcissism that too often underpins self esteem.
Where did we go wrong? Did we go wrong? What about our All Blacks, there in the international limelight representing the sporting prowess of this country, some of whom find it difficult to do more than mumble into a microphone--or even barely open their mouths to pretend to sing our national anthem? Contrast these heroes on the sporting field with highly articulate, fluent, English-speaking players from South Africa, France. and our national embarrassment should be at an all-time high. So should our indignation that New Zealanders have been so short-changed that the young German, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and other continental visitors we encounter everywhere can speak English, and often two or three other languages, with a far greater proficiency than young New Zealanders emerging from our schools--or even their parents)--can manage in our own language. Interestingly enough, the controversial Kim Dotcom's own English is more competent than that of most of his media interviewers--and certainly than that of the Prime Minister himself.
In essence, those who continue to claim our education system is one of the best, as in the recent North & South article, The Knew Illiteracy, are either extraordinarily ignorant or simply the usual suspects. It is over-late to point out how many now get through university --but still can't write a proper sentence. A professor friend, shocked that most of his undergraduates can't even construct a decent paragraph, let alone an essay, tells me that only his German and Chinese students are well-enough educated to competently cope. We all know Ph.D. students to whom basic grammar and syntax is a closed book.
However, this is not a new illiteracy, as North & South claims. It has been a long time coming to fruition. And a major part of the problem is both ignorant university graduates, even today's teachers, having been cheated of anything like a first-class education. The dumbing down of education, which we can trace back to well over a half a century in the making, has been part of the planning to white-ant the education system of all English-speaking countries--not just that of New Zealand. Back in 1986, even, Bill Bennett, the United States Secretary of Education, was reported as exclaiming in dismay when he heard that poorly performing American students were among the worst on the world scene.
What was a basically subversive attempt to undermine the West was already well under way and much assisted by the radicalized '60s revolt against all accepted institutions--very much helped by a drug-taking prioritising of the pop-rock scene, and of sexual experimentation and permissiveness. In a genuine revulsion against the horror and wastage of two World Wars, a radicalized, youthful (and not so youthful) sector of the population rejected all the values of previous generations --even those most important to preserve. The resulting degeneration into ultimate confusion offered those with a destructive agenda a ripe plum ready for the picking. Today's problem of our considerably under-educated population is now new at all.
Because her detailed analysis of the disaster that lay ahead for New Zealand children, and our teachers, was not only prophetic, but outlined and analysed so much what was subsequently in store for us, I have more than once referred to Dr Margaret Dalziell, friend and mentor to philosopher Karl Popper when both were at the University of Canterbury. Subsequently a secondary school Headmistress, before lecturing at Otago University, she draw attention to the fact--which also needs to be reemphasized --that most of the English teachers she encountered even then knew no more about what they were supposed to be teaching than did their own pupils ... something the Ministry of Education is only now admitting. But nothing genuinely effective is being done about this.
Most importantly of all, in a well-substantiated Landfall essay, published as far back as 1961, she accurately pointed the finger at the new English syllabus with the title "Language in the Primary School". It was the pointer to the disastrous dumbing-down of what was in future required (or, rather not required) of teachers, compared to the preceding primary school syllabus of 1904, often called "the great syllabus", largely the work of the wise George Hogben, at that time Inspector-General of schools and later New Zealand's first Director of Education.
Was it just a result of sloppy thinking from the Wellington-based education bureaucracy that resulted in so many teachers, even then, being programmed to be thoroughly ignorant in relation to the subject they were and are paid to teach? To point to the fact that what happened was due to a neo-Marxist philosophy, directed at dumbing down education requirements, conveys little to most New Zealanders who have no real idea of what this terms means.
So, in brief: When left-wing radicals previous to, and during the '60s, openly advocating neo-Marxism, achieved positions of influence within our education establishments, their agenda was to spread the doctrine of Communism. To do so, they were undertaking the Italian Communist Gramsci's well-targeted "long march though the institutions". As a highly important contribution to this, the curricula were re-written to ensure an extreme leftist teaching philosophy would reorientate courses in New Zealand schools, and extend to all other teaching institutions. The aim was to propagandize teachers (Lenin's "useful fools") at in-house training courses, and, through re-written syllabuses, permeated with their philosophy, to programme impressionable young New Zealanders. Courses were introduced into our state school system with the intention of compulsory attendance. Among these was pacifism (with the manipulative folk of the Peace Van trundling around the schools, funded by the Labour Party, under David Lange--who was probably used as a front by the more manipulative elements of the Labour Left, now firmly ensconced in parliament while pretending to be centrist, politically.
Also introduced and promoted were anti-conservative and anti-academic subjects such as conflict resolution; the promotion of homosexual and lesbian "choices"; pro-Maori, radicalized "indigenous" life-styles touted as superior; anti-colonialism; reverse racism; anti-Americanism; feminism; and the advocacy of "non-judgmental" teenage sexual activity in "sex education" classes--with condoms and abortion advanced as a solution to the usual consequences of premature or promiscuous sex. The attack on our children was under way. Moreover today's attempts to make a reinvented te reo compulsory throughout classes, and targeting part-Maori children to attend te reo schools, lessens these children's opportunity to acquire a far broader education, with much more relevance to New Zealand's and their own future places in the world. It has also helped promote an expectation of special entitlement--if not actual superiority --among some young part-Maori --attitudes far from being conducive to racial harmony and integration.
However, arguably one of the most damaging of these changes in the school curriculum has been that increasing emphasis on sex education, year after year, from the youngest children upwards. However, although provably radicalised interests have been pushing this programme, there is no doubt now, from long-term research--including from sources as reputable as the British Lancet--that the premature and quite pernicious, highly explicit programmes now being forced on schools by the Ministry of Education, advised by the supposedly innocuous, but in reality agendadriven, Family Planning Organisation's invasion of the world of childhood, has caused incalculable damage to our vulnerable young. The research conducted for my own book--The 100 Days--Claiming back New Zealand ... features a special chapter confirming the quite deliberately destructive agenda of those with an ill-concealed intent to destabilise Western society. It records how parents are regarded as the "most dangerous people of all" whose influence should be eliminated "--if necessary by force," according to Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director of the World Health Organisation.
Moreover, as Australian commentator Bill Muehlenberg points out, we have from the 2009 figures of Planned Parenthood itself (the premier sex education advocate in America, as in New Zealand) the findings that those involved in comprehensive sex education courses have a 30% higher rate of sexual activity than found among their unenlightened peers. Why then, is there not a greater outcry from parents about the seeming innocuous but in fact highly damaging sex education programmes in schools which destabilize many children, and shock others?
It is not irrelevant to stress the damage resulting from these programmes, because another very important consequence emerges. Children who, as a result of these intrusive courses, become sexually active, are far less likely to do well at school. Moreover, the high rate of teen suicides, of upset adolescents distraught at the failure of broken relationships--(difficult enough even for adults to manage) is not irrelevant.
There is one thing of which we can be sure: something is very wrong with directions our society has taken if so many empty-headed young girls, bereft of any moral code, worship Miley Cyrus--and when so many of our young are hooked on drugs or alcohol, with apparently nothing to show for all those years of schooling--supposedly there to genuinely educate our young and to offer the best of what our great writers and thinkers had to tell us about life, and how to live it well.
Yet the dumping of inappropriate requirements on schools continues, the latest being courses for vulnerable primary children on change, loss and grief. As a parent emails: "Below are excerpts from an e-book on the Ministry website (http://health.tki.org.nz/ Key-collections/Curriculum-in-action/ Change-loss-and-grief). He comments, "It sounds inappropriate for school, as we suspected," and asks -"How much time do they now actually spend learning worthwhile things--rather than naming reproductive body parts and talking about feeling sad?"
A teacher friend replies, "More nonsense that we're expected to teach! Fortunately, as with compulsory sex education, there are ways to minimise the impact on children, while still complying." And a former teacher and mother writes, "Where does school begin, and where does private life end? A sensitive teacher would deal with a grieving child, no matter what the situations. What puzzles me is this: are teachers so stupid and insensitive that they can't use their natural instinct to deal with a grieving child? Has someone just noticed that teachers have to deal with ALL situations that happen in life ... the sad and happy, the tragedies and triumphs? Now will there be an academic who will write advice and prepare courses for other family happenings, e.g. a birth, a divorce, the All Blacks losing a game, etc?"
In short, politically correct thinking on any socio-political issue which could be approached through English and Social studies curricula, in particular, was deliberately introduced, with most parents unaware what was happening, and most well-meaning teachers lacking the intellectual rigour to challenge the propagandising of their supposedly specialist areas of knowledge. (Nor has the far Right has been any better, with its expectation that only the skills needed to acquire a job and to be able to access the internet are particularly "relevant" today).
New Zealand children continue to be constantly bombarded by feel-good, think-bad initiatives and curriculum impositions being dumped on schools by the Ministry of Education. But in essence, for the answer to why we have lost so much, and what has produced these long years of the brainwashing of our society, we need look not much further than this longtime invasion of our schools, universities and other institutions of supposed learning by the far Left, entrenched in the government ministries, and their relentless propaganda war.
The last thing they have been aiming for is to produce a society of well-educated New Zealanders, who can think for themselves. So it is particularly relevant to recall the ominous warning from George Orwell, that if people were not taught to think well, others would do their thinking for them. And to be able to think well, we need to have a good knowledge of what has happened to us as a society in the past, the lessons we needed to have learned along the way and an understanding of what is now happening to us, and why.
Yet history is no longer taught as an important core subject in our schools --and Prime Minister John Key, in his by no means innocuous campaign to replace the New Zealand flag, is not accidentally referring to it as "a colonial relic"--a quite deliberately disparaging remark. We should be questioning his agenda. What is it about our constitutional links with Britain that Key personally wants altered? For there is no doubt that changing the flag involves just this. And is there anything about his unquestioning enthusiasm for wooing Communist China--still a bullying, repressive regime--and his determined ignoring of the downsides to New Zealanders of the accelerating buy-up of our land, our farms, strategic asses and our housing stock by wealthy Chinese among others, outbidding New Zealanders --that we should be challenging?
For we would be foolish to disregard the fact that those cheated of any knowledge of history, and the significance of the destructive avenues down which the supremely ambitious or disaffected habitually marshal the people of their country, are not only the self-willed leaders, the Mao Tsetungs, the Hitlers, the Mussolinis, Pol Pots and Saddam Husseins? What when they include others with their own aims and purposes ... apart from the striking examples of today's cruel Communist Chinese oligarchy, and the murderously repressive ISIS?
Confronted with the reality of what we learn from history, we would be more than shortsighted to not recognize that we are constantly faced with those with a damaging agenda. Given human nature, there are always individuals wanting to control people.
In Western society, for example, who would discount the fact that the extremes of far Right and far Left in politics need to be constantly evaluated --both being basically different sides of the same coin? It is the ordinary people in the middle who become the victims of self-elected leaders determined to control their societies. As always, it is then individuals who want nothing more than to be left alone, to look after their own families, and to provide a living and protection for them, who get roped into the control--even the armies--of those who decide they want more power, territory, more wealth . or who simply dislike others equally as powerful to the extent that they want to defeat them.
One of the most outstanding examples of the reality and pathos of such situations was the brave and generous initiative of ordinary German soldiers, the majority of whom, in the appalling carnage of the World War I battlefield on the Western Front, were conscripted into the war--rather than fighting as professional soldiers. A recent Sunday Times article sources a new book detailing how rank and file soldiers laid down their weapons, in one of the most telling and poignant reminders of how individuals are caught up in events that they are not responsible for, on a special Christmas Day.
With the sound of German carols floating over the trenches "a German officer and two men approached, waving a white flag. A British officer jumped out of the trench to meet them, and after an exchange of cigars ... they agreed to keep Christmas Day, the two sides meeting halfway between the trenches and exchanging food and drink, followed by a boxing tournament. " Plenty of the Germans had lived in London and so spoke English perfectly", according to the book The Christmas Match: Football In No Man's Land 1914 by Pehr Thermaenius. What has also been recorded elsewhere about this event is that not only was the British High Command horrified by this fraternisation, attempting to suppress all knowledge of it, but there was also a move to shoot the English soldiers involved. The killing, on the front, needless to say, was made to resume in the next days.
Left to themselves, all most individuals really want is to be left alone, not, as today, at the mercy of those in power, including politicians in central or local authority propagating bad laws, imposing restrictions, conditions, constantly raising taxes to finance their own planning--and claiming to know best. Historian Barbara Tuchman's excellent The March of Folly challenged this contention with her well-documented claim that governments get most issues wrong.
With regard to what has happened to the prioritising of quality education, however, it isn't that "they" got it wrong. According to their own radicalized agenda, they have succeeded in producing school leavers with the minimal possible experience of a genuine education, but, on the other hand, heavily indoctrinated by all the radicalized issues our education bureaucracy has imposed on them. The intention? To in future establish a voting pattern to change the face of our society. Nor is it going to get any better, i.e. if the Ministry of Education continues to have its own way. And as long as too many parents remain too intimidated to say that they are not happy with what's happening, nothing is going to improve. Most aware teachers can't help: their job security depends upon not making waves.
The decline in intellectual expectations, and indeed capacity, continues with the lowering of the bar throughout our school system. The much vaunted "National Standards" are not national at all--being no more than another form of internal assessment, with nothing like the degree of accountability from schools from the former external examination system.
It is no wonder that this external examination system too was removed from our schools. It tended to show up only too clearly the difference between poorly performing and top schools, so had to be done away with. It also showed the difference between good teachers and poor teachers--(even allowing for the fact that a non-supportive, parental community very much damages its own children's chance to make the best of what is on offer.) Replacing the genuine accountability of external examinations with the internal assessment of not always competent, nor scrupulous, but self-serving teachers--and with the possibility of some schools fudging the results--has been hugely damaging to the cause of genuine learning.
It is also highly significant, as well as equally damaging, is that what is now well and truly withheld from our children--both Euro-New Zealanders and part-Maori children, who also should be sharing this inheritance, but are now deprived of it--are the great books of the past, not only the best of what English writers and thinkers have to tell us--but those we inherited from other cultures. What about our great English language poetry, opening young eyes to the beauty of the natural world, to the realities of living, loving and losing, to hard choices, to succeeding or failing, to defeat and victory--to simply coping../' If you can keep your head when all about you/ are losing theirs and blaming it on you ..."
It is no accident, but a social crime that our young in most state schools today cannot even tell us the names of our great poets. They have been deliberately deprived of being taught the greatest poetry we have inherited. Instead, we have the new "performance poetry" which arguably has very little at all to do with genuine poetry, and a great deal to do with wannabe poets lacking any genuine gifts, and even actual competence. The real joy of being able to recall wonderful poetry has been so very culpably withheld from so many. As one uncouth educationist ranted to a dismayed former headmaster ..." Just because you like poetry doesn't mean you have to inflict it on everybody else." Inflict ... His choice of words was particularly revealing.
The rot, then, has well and truly set in. And although some children from advantaged backgrounds will be fortunate enough to evade the damaging dumbing down of both teaching and learning, what has happened has enormous consequences for us as a people. These include political consequences.
The deliberate removal of Latin from the secondary syllabus possibly the most useful subject I took at school, and later taught --is also far from irrelevant. I was reminded of this by a home-schooling mother mentioning her daughter's recent comment about how wonderfully useful properly studying Latin has been for her degree in medicine. A recent publication, Gwynne's Latin, is not superior to the particularly well-organized Paterson & Macnaughton textbooks by the use of which two of my own sons gained School Certificate in the third and fourth forms, respectively, with top grades. But it provides an excellent analysis of why, far from being merely a dead language, Latin remains one of the most useful subjects that can be offered in schools--far more relevant to young New Zealanders than the reinvented Maori now being prioritized, of little use to young New Zealanders in today's global outreach ... but being strongly pushed for political advantage.
Its author, N.M Gwynne, makes the point that not only is Latin an academic subject easy enough, when well taught, for the least academic to benefit from (its use was, after all, widespread in society for well over 1000 years) but it is potentially difficult enough to extend bright pupils. It was the means of communication that united the whole of Europe culturally, and in every other significant way. It is a considerable help when mastering the English language, which derives largely from Latin and partly from Anglo-Saxon and the romance languages, five of which were direct directly derived from Latin--Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Our grammar and syntax were worked out from Latin, the language of the two greatest legal systems in history, Roman law and English Common Law.
Even today, as Gwynne illustrates, Latin is the language of the mottos of most families, schools, universities, the language of the bi-nomial taxonomy of plants and animals, of chemical elements and of compounds, of medical terminology. And above all, its ability to help train and extend lazy minds, ill-served by the thoroughly dumbed-down nature of today's curricula in schools and to teach logic and systematic thinking --is arguably unequalled.
It seems almost superfluous to include the fact that it was through the Romans that so much else has been passed down to us, including what was assimilated from the Greeks and other races, with the history, myths and legends underpinning Western civilization.
The Black American teacher Marva Collins, achieving highly rewarding academic results for her disadvantaged, impoverished children, became famous for successfully applying classical education methods. Many of her pupils had previously been formerly categorized as learning-disabled.
Her constant argument was that it was the new teaching standards and methods which were, and are, the problem--not the old ones. She once wrote, "I have discovered few learning-disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities." She insisted that it was not the old teaching theory that was to blame, but the new theorizing. The consequences today support her conclusions.
Far from our schools offering the opportunity for academic excellence to our children and now, even their children, a whole world of genuine learning has been and is being withheld during those precious years when an appetite to learn everything provides an unparalleled opportunity to open doors to other worlds--to the history of the Western, the history of the world itself, to discovery, to the key moments and events which have brought us today--and to the stories of those who made and shaped us.
To begin to claim back what we have lost will need the courage and persistence of so-called ordinary parents, refusing to comply with the politicized agenda issuing from the ministry, and its obviously largely ignorant and politicized minister, who is apparently, as usual, captured by its bureaucracy. Only determined, well-informed parents are in a position to being able refuse to accept being fobbed of, and to demand genuine accountability from the schools.
The alternative? To do nothing?
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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