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Monthly Archives: February 2009

What’s new Sunday 1 March to Saturday 7 March

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Some of the February photos from the photoblog.

The collage was made with Shape Collage.

February stats

These appear on Ninglun’s Specials. See February blog stats 1 – most visited posts; February blog stats 2 — totals.

What’s new on my other blogs

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2009 in site news

 

Irony (noun) – the Murdoch press thundering about purity in English Studies (see also “hypocrisy”)

Funnily enough I was talking about such things last Saturday at my Glebe breakfast – and we didn’t have latte or chardonnay, nor were we weaving baskets. I was asked what I thought of the current (“new”) HSC course. The questioner, a writer and academic, had also been singing the praises of Flaubert’s sentences, savouring them in French as well as in English translation. How much more a literary tragic can you be? (And I say that with respect.) He went on to say he was rather impressed with the “new” HSC English, watered down as it is in terms of theory, because he was finding students much more open to thought and better prepared than they used to be. Depends who you ask, doesn’t it?

The worst thing you can do in my opinion to English studies is to pickle it in brine or turn it into a nostalgia museum.

So I find the discussions going on between the National Curriculum people and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English appropriate, well-informed, and intelligent. They are in that respect opposite to today’s editorial in The Australian which I find plain dumb and very badly informed.

Like most Australians, we thought the point of English classes at school was to teach children to read and write properly and to understand literature. Alas, we stand corrected. As Justine Ferrari reports today, the organisation representing Australia’s English teachers’ association, in responding to the national English curriculum, recommends that "meaning making in and through language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the curriculum."

Quite. Read it again – it gets muddier every time.

In our view, and undoubtedly that of most parents and students, the national curriculum did a good job defining literature clearly as "plays, novels and poems … cinema, television and multimedia … poetry, picture books, multimodal texts, short stories and drama, and a variety of nonfiction forms such as biography."

The English Teachers Association of NSW, alas, sneered at the definitions as "nebulous". Instead, they suggested "the term culturally valued texts as a definition of literature."

Culturally valued by whom? Teenagers at the lower end of the class who prefer Big Brother to Oscar Wilde? Or, more likely, progressive teachers who find it easier to play films than take students through the themes and characters of Pride and Prejudice?

The NSW teachers want the national curriculum to be about "other models of English such as personal growth, cultural studies and critical literacy as that is how teachers understand and have operated within the subject". The best English teachers are happy to focus on their subject, but those who want to be social engineers and cultural warriors dominate these teachers’ associations, which are becoming irrelevant.

Teaching grammar, which promises to be a vital improvement in the national curriculum, was dismissed by the NSW teachers as having "no influence on either the accuracy or quality of written language development for 5 to 16-year-olds". As grammar has not been taught widely to Australian students in a generation, that claim is dubious in the extreme.

The papers also push hard for assessment that is "inclusive of the full range of students" and for teachers to be given wide scope to select materials to be studied in the interests of "equity".

However worthy the teachers believe this approach to be, it is precisely students from disadvantaged and non-English-speaking homes who have most to lose from such a defeatist system. Many disadvantaged students, and some from affluent homes, do not have access to good books and are not encouraged to read by parents.

English teachers who truly value their professionalism would encourage a rigorous curriculum, taught with expertise, that provides all students with the best possible written and verbal communication skills and an appreciation of literature. This is the best way to set disadvantaged students up for life.

The Rudd Government must ignore the push to impose the worst of current state-based systems on to the national curriculum.

Where can one start? Perhaps by pointing out that the words singled out for praise in paragraph three in fact paraphrase (and mean much the same as) the words roundly condemned in paragraph one. Nor do I find anything arcane in "meaning making in and through language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the curriculum."

But then I wrote twenty-six years ago:

I am concerned here with theory at a fairly low level of generality; or, putting it another way, I am in search of models and procedures which might make my practice more effective, more critical, or more broadly based… In all of this I am making the following assumptions about English teaching:

1. Language creates and orders meanings, personal and social, outward and inward. Language is the primary means of creating, expressing and interpreting the self, in the context of society and history. Language is also a means of ordering and interpreting reality. While there are many difficult theoretical questions raised by the idea that language constructs the self and reality, we cannot give up the idea that in doing so language is more than merely self-reflexive.

2. Central to English teaching is the learner as meaning-maker, a participant in the network of meanings that constitute our culture.

3. In using and studying language or other means of meaning-making in a variety of contexts and realizations, the learner grows more competent, more aware, and less helpless.

Glossing that eleven years ago I said:

My own position (and that of many I suspect) has been an evolving one. Rather than earlier approaches being absolutely displaced by later ones, I have tended to keep what works from many perspectives. So when I embraced aspects of the process or whole language approaches, it was because these opened up the range of things students could do; but I continued to look at sentence grammar, paragraphing, spelling and so on. Teaching of grammar and style was enhanced by reading in the areas of stylistics and language variation in the later 1970s and 1980s, and these were in turn strengthened by the genre pedagogy of the early 1990s. An abiding concern of most English teachers has been critical reading; the meaning and scope of that has been enriched by insights from Freebody and Luke, Kress and Hasan, to name a few.

I am all in favour of teaching the classics, keeping in mind that the idea there were “classics” in English is surprisingly recent. There were no English departments in universities anywhere until the late 19th century, and very few until well into the 20th century. I am also in favour of enabling students to negotiate all the forms and media we/they confront in the real world. I think that is called “literacy”. It has also been called (by Hemingway) “crap detection.”  Very handy when reading the Murdoch press.

And that will do for now. Just as the Oz is simply regurgitating today, so I have responded to their past eructations. Check the appropriate tags and categories in the side bar. Here is just one example: Here we go again 2 (December 2007).

I get so tired of their threadbare bitching.

Read the AATE submission for yourself: national-english-curriculum-framing-paper-aate-response.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2009 in Australia, education, English studies, literacy

 

Love Ned the Bear

He’s a regular on Club Troppo, and I always note whenever it appears in my Google Reader. But this one I love so much I have to share it directly.

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Ah Sol! (Be careful how you say that…)

In case you don’t know what this is about, read Departing Trujillo flags more job cuts. See the obscene juxtapositions in a related story:

Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr says there is an extraordinary double standard when it comes to executive pay and worker benefits.

The clothing manufacturer Pacific Brands this week sacked more than 1,800, but last year its top executives received more than $7 million in pay rises.

Outgoing Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo is also due for a multi-million dollar payout.

Senator Carr says the executives need to explain.

"What I’ve seen for many years is there seems to be a great disparity between the way in which executives are treated and the way in which workers are treated," he said. “Look at what’s happening with Telstra. I find it quite extraordinary. There’s an enormous double standard about what happens on the shop floor and what happens in the boardroom." – ABC.

Hard to disagree.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, current affairs, globalisation/corporations, other blogs

 

Friday intellectual spot 7: Tobias Ziegler on perceptions of ideological bias in research

If that sounds like a recent post by Bruce, it’s because I took my cue from that post! I commented there: “I may steal this for my Friday Intellectual Spot (or should that be in my case ‘Intellectual’?) — a really good find, Bruce.” Now I have stolen…

Tobias Ziegler has a blog, Not a Hedgehog, on WordPress.com. The item Bruce cites appeared on a Crikey blog, Pure Poison, on 24 February: Pure Science: Seeing ideological bias in research findings. So I have tagged this “meet a blog” as well, since you have now met several so far!

The results suggest that research findings which support liberal approaches to public policy are more likely to be regarded with scepticism, and that this scepticism seems to be associated with concerns about the ideological bias of the researchers. These perceptions of bias are more likely to come from those who are conservative in general, or who hold conservatively-aligned attitudes on the specific issue the research looked at. These findings seem consistent with a lot of the reactions to research that we see in conservative columns and blogs, and in responses from the commenters on those sites. And although they were explicitly artificial, the descriptions of research findings are similar to what we typically see presented in the mainstream media – brief, superficial and lacking the detail needed for critical evaluation. Under those conditions, there appears to be a tendency to see Leftist influence on the research endeavour – and the source of the research becomes the focus, rather than the integrity and quality of the research itself…

…We regularly see scientific research and academic institutions criticised as having philosophical and/or ideological motivations to conduct research that supports certain outcomes (e.g., anthropogenic global warming). This study provides evidence for one type of bias in judgment that may contribute to these types of claims.

But that doesn’t mean those of us who lean to the left can sit back with a smug sense of self-satisfaction. Liberals still appear to be more suspicious of findings that contradict their existing beliefs. It’s good to be sceptical, but that scepticism needs to be applied equally, without being influenced by the nature of the findings. And as the authors of this study note, the proneness to see liberal but not conservative bias might be because researchers are more likely to be liberals.

Rigorous, objective research should be able to serve as evidence in the debate over public policy. Rather than dismissing any research on ad hominem grounds, everyone involved in that debate needs to focus on the research itself. If the findings are genuinely affected by ideological bias, point to the evidence of ideological contamination in the study. We need to avoid this natural tendency to point to the researcher just because the findings don’t fit with what we believe.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, intellectual spot

 

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Friday poem #5 – from Thylazine – Michelle Cahill

Today we go back to Oz Poetry and forward to some newer voices, courtesy of Thylazine and their TWELVE AUSTRALIAN POETS SERIES 2. I have chosen something by Michelle Cahill, born in Kenya. “Her first collection of poetry The Accidental Cage was Best First Book with Interactive Press 2006 and was listed among the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Books for 2006.”

Waves

You tell me how it feels
to be inside the glass of a wave,
quiet as a womb
with the force to pitch
against the velvet rocks
what skims iridescent
from its dark mouth.
Sea-gulls angle off the point
where I watch the grommets,
black seals in wet-suits
with livid lips.
When the wind turns
the sea wears a mask of mercury,
begins to swirl and chop.
The sky is spitting rain,
the surfers paddle back.
I wonder when love turns.
You scramble down the cliff
sprint across the rocks.
Now the waves close out
a monologue wracked
by contradiction.

A “grommet” is a young or inexperienced surfer.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2009 in Australia and Australian, OzLit, poets and poetry

 

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Most popular photos February 2009

On my WordPress photo blog:

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Mardi Gras Fair Day

Most popular in the past seven days:

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On Ninglun on Journalspace:

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Mardi Gras Fair Day

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Mystery head in church

More of you should visit the Journalspace blog… 😉

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2009 in blogging, photography, site news, site stats

 

St Mary’s South Brisbane

Many of us are watching developments with interest. This “rogue” Catholic Church has been using WordPress to get its message out: St Mary’s Community South Brisbane and St Mary’s Discussion Forum*. See also (Brisbane Archbishop) Bathersby ousts Kennedy at St Mary’s.

I had been thinking of posting on this, but would rather leave it to a progressive Catholic. Michael Bayly in St Paul Minnesota is an Australian expat whose blog The Wild Reed is on my blog roll, thanks to a tip from Renegade Eye some time back. Michael has just posted on the issue: Mustard Plants in the Hierarchy’s Garden.

…But wait! The center may be in a state of stasis and decay, but at the periphery of our living tradition we can observe sprouting and flourishing like mustard seeds, pesky* yet invigorating ways of being Catholic that are truer to the life and message of Jesus, and thus the true mission of the Church. Two recent examples are St. Mary’s in South Brisbane, Australia, and the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community in Minneapolis, USA. (The latter is my spiritual home.)…

See also a project Michael is involved with, The Progressive Catholic Voice.

Here in Surry Hills and Redfern one immediately thinks of Redfern’s Kennedy, the late Father Ted Kennedy. There the forces for “the centre” have apparently triumphed, but again the blogosphere, among other things, keeps the dream alive. See The Church Mouse.

The Church Mouse maintains an eclectic public record of the history and curious goings on in the parish of St Vincent’s Redfern, an inner city suburb of Sydney, Australia.

This is the third major revision of the website. All of the old website content – with the exception of the Church Mouse Journal – can now be found here, and that material is being moved over as time permits. New articles are published here…

A recent post included this letter:

RWTIt also links to replies.

Update 28 February

* Note these sites are being replaced by St Mary’s Catholic Community South Brisbane, a new site. The old sites carry this message: “All material from this site will be moved to the new site and this address will cease to operate from March 31 2009. You are encouraged to join the newsletter subscription list on the new site to receive our regular bulletins.”

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, challenge, Christianity, faith, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, Indigenous Australians, inspiration, interfaith, religion

 

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