Devining Literacy

Brendan Nelson has announced the composition of his literacy enquiry. The establishment of this review was a response to the heated (and over-politicised) debate over the relative merits of whole language and phonics as methods of teaching children to read. A surprise inclusion on the panel is right wing op-ed columnist Miranda Devine. I wonder what particular expertise and perspective she will bring to the review’s deliberations?

ELSEWHERE: Courtesy of commenter Harry, here’s Emma Tom’s piece in The Australian on Miranda Devine. I like Emma’s point that no-one is actually obliged to read op-ed columnists with whom they disagree.

In comments, Brian Bahnisch provides a link to a transcript of an interview with US expert Dr Reid Lyon, which should help those interested understand the stakes of the debate over literacy and pedagogy.

ELSEWHERE: Immanuel Rant has applied a caustic eye to Ms Devine’s research skills based on an analysis of her recent columns.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
This entry was posted in Education, Politics - national, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
40 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

Probably the same expertise as Charles Krauthammer being on a bioethics committee (and deplacing a Scientist). It helps in having everything politicised though, otherwise the left and right wouldn’t know what their talking points should be.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Can you put a little bucket or something in the corner of posts like that?

I hate it when I am cruising my favourite places on the net and suddenly get presented with something that makes me want to vomit on my keyboard.

A bit of warning and I can read it syll-a-bul by syll-a-bul so I don’t get an-y nas-ty shocks.

They are vile. They reward such ugly people so publically.

Peter Kemp
Peter Kemp
2022 years ago

That particular name is synonomous with biliousness at the best of times but I guess improving literacy for some of the brain dead– enough to follow slogans such as einer Volk, einer Reich, einer Howard— could be the Devine achievement.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Howard.

At least get the grammar right!

Anyway, according to Godwin’s Law, the first person to mention Hitler looses the argument.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

I’m glad the argument has been loosenated.

I thought the answer was obvious; Miranda Devine will bring a badly constucted and factually flawed argument containing several tenuous tangents to the deliberations.

I just hope the Strayan Gumment fixed the problem soon.

Robert
2022 years ago

If you’re going to try to invoke Godwin’s Law, it would help if you knew what it actually was.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

Will Miranda Devine attempt to have the word “green” removed from our vocabulary?

Peter Kemp
Peter Kemp
2022 years ago

Hey Blank, hang loose, I never once mentioned Corporal Schnickelgruber but the Howardprinzip seems to reign supreme in the eyes of her Devine majesty! (Now even the untermenschen could be speaking Devine English with her input)

As an alternative, a cross between Lucretia Borgia and a Prussian CSM?

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

It wouldn’t be hard for Ms Devine to bring more “expertise and perspective to the review’s deliberations” than has been demonstrated in the comments on this thread. I hope you’re all enjoying making fools of yourselves while denigrating someone who doesn’t share your worldview.

BTW, I don’t necessarily agree that she should have been appointed. But that’s not the point. If you don’t think she should have been appointed, you can say so and give your reasons without all the odious personal rubbishing.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

It sorta reminds me of the ABC decision 30 years or so back to put Bubbles Fisher on The Inventors Panel. Absolutely no obvious or logical reason.

Mind you, Daddy Frank, although positively neanderthal on anything political, is surprisingly good on things literate.

Perhaps it was like that cricket selection 20-odd years back to add the unknown Peter Taylor to the Australian cricket team when everyone was expecting Mark Taylor to at last get recognition.

They might’ve got the wrong first name!

Peter Kemp
Peter Kemp
2022 years ago

My reason for disputing MD’s participation in any forum is based, among other transgressions, on her lack of simple research combined with uninformed denigration.

In one article in the smh, not so long ago, MD attacked two judges in the NSW judiciary for granting an appeal against convictions of two rapists on the basis that ”they didn’t trust the [lower court] jury”. Now appeals are based on questions of law, not fact, leaving us with the Devine wisdom that a jury decision can never be overturned. This is an untenable implied assertion illustrating her approach, and the media’s typical criminological ”moral panic” approach to crime.

Such demonstrated irresponsibility and disinformation leaves me in no doubt as to her credentials on any body formulating input to public policy . I assumed that most people on this site were aware of the past poison dispensed, so why should we not assume more poison to follow? Who is ”making fools of themselves” —are we all obliged to re-hash the evidence on a burden of proof ”beyond reasonable doubt” ???

peggy sue
peggy sue
2022 years ago

Blank cannot spell “lose”,
Peter Kemp cannot spell “Schickelgruber”.
Is whole language to blame?

For my own, and everyone’s edification,
Godwin’s Law,
according to Wikipedia.

“Godwin’s Law … states that:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Many people have extended Godwin’s Law to imply that the invoking of the Nazis as a debating tactic (in any argument not directly related to World War II or the Holocaust) automatically loses the argument, simply because the nature of these events is such that any comparison to any event less serious than genocide or extinction is invalid and in poor taste.”

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

we have our own blog hero in wikipedia too:
Quiggin’s subclause:
In an Australian policy debate, whenever anyone refers to North Korea (or Cuba) as the exemplar of a policy which was in fact in force under Robert Menzies, they shall be deemed to have lost the debate automatically.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

“I hope you’re all enjoying making fools of yourselves while denigrating someone who doesn’t share your worldview.”
Well, I do feel a bit better. How about you, Peter Kemp?

C’mon Alex, you aren’t seriously defending Miranda Devine are you? She’s crap.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

No, just reacting to the ad hominem nature of the opposition to her appointment.

Peter Kemp
Peter Kemp
2022 years ago

harry, I feel great. It’s like being on Mastermind, with special subject (according to Basil Fawlty), ”the bleeding obvious.” Worldview is not always a simple left/right division either.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Alex,
Miranda is not an eminent reading teacher, nor does she have an honourary degree in linguistics.
So, obviously the reason she was chosen was because she is reasonable, impartial, rational, not prone to oversimplification, capable of research and competent at dealing with logical debate.
Except that she is none of these.
One can only conclude that she has been selected because of who she is.
If anyone is tackling the woman and not the ball it is the selection panel.

Peter,
Hear hear! I think her crowning glory was her response to the Australian response to the September 11 attacks. I can think of no better way to say “I am incapable of rational thought”.
Although this one is pretty good too

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/04/02/1048962816329.html

Hahaha – I found something funny that Emma Tom (!) wrote about Miranda:

http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,10699307%255E12274,00.html

Alex won’t like it one bit.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

Frank Devine actually appears to be reasonably well-read, although he’s maybe written one too many “I think I’ll read Proust, buts it too darn long” columns.

Miranda’s taste of literature seems to be a lot more limited, I don’t know what expertise she would be able to provide. Particularly, as I recall her view is that literature has to be jolly and jovial. I remember one column she complained about a book where the character was confused about his sexuality and suggested such a book should be replaced with up-lifting works like the Famous Five.

Hopefully this advice was then ignored by the Education Department, I can just see generations of children being driven away from reading by being forced to endure a steady diet of this sort of Panglossian fluff. I know it wasn’t it till my later years of high school that I stumbled upon the texts that seemed relevant to me.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Did anybody here Don Watson’s speech to something or other on ABC radio last night? I’m very sorry I only heard the last 5 minutes or so.

Devine or Schickelgruber or Don himself, anyone as long as the result is the same – a brain implosion in the teachers unions.

And in the paper this morning, OK it wasn’t the paper, it was The Australian but nonetheless I am certain I read Thomas Keneally has started a hunger strike.

Wonderful times. Wonderful times.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

James, why is Thomas Keneally on a hunger strike? I missed that one in my quick skim through the American…

Stephen, do you know if Miranda Devine has any other qualifications other than being Frank Devine’s daughter? I had the impression that her appointment was very much a continuation of the family franchise. I rarely agreed with Frank, but at least he was readable and occasionally made some sort of sense.

Alex, maybe there’s been some ad hominem comments, but I think that’s mainly a reflection of how little Miranda Devine’s appointment is justifiable. I’d be interested to see whether Nelson gave any reason for her appointment. Imagine the screaming if Philip Adams had been appointed to an enquiry by a Latham government (not that that’s very likely…). Adams at least has some expertise in things like film financing and arts policy, though I think he is way past his use by date as a columnist and only continues to take up space in the Murdoch Press as their token leftie. It would be nice if there were someone writing for the Australian who actually argued a centrist or left position well.

Harry, Emma Tom is supremely good value. And, when I met her at a Brisbane Writers’ Festival thingie a few years back, she signed a copy of her book to my flatmate “Keep on Trucking” which I thought was neat. I don’t know why. I might post the link to the column you’ve supplied as an update so people can easily access it.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I read a few of Miranda Devine’s pieces some time ago, then decided life is too short to spend on her stuff. So maybe she’s changed, I wouldn’t know. From other comments it appears not.

Actually they seem to have picked all the obvious heavy-weights for the c’tee, plus the token parent and teacher. Which leaves one still wondering what category Miranda is token for. It’s a puzzle.

If she sits and listens, she has the chance of learning a bit. If she doesn’t (more likely) she could be a serious pain on the c’tee and waste a lot of meeting time. This would seriously risk pissing off the more relevant c’tee members.

On the issue of learning to read, the best value is to scroll down the comments on Quiggin’s post, referred to by Mark and pick out what Margaret Farrell has to say. In addition the interview with Dr Reid Lyon, Director of Child Development and Behavior at the US National Institute of Child Health and Development, on the Health Report of 15 November is excellent value. (Found at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s1240933.htm) Margaret has now had a look at the Lyon interview on my suggestion and given him a tick and a koala stamp.

Inter alia, Lyon reckons the teacher education institutions are a problem, the more so because they have academic freedom and no accountability. And a good thing too, except when they are teaching methodologies that are scientifically wrong. Reid also makes interesting comments about the relationship between poverty, the richness or otherwise of linguistic environments in early childhood and literacy.

In terms of sheer quantity we are looking at 80 million words of interaction between parents and kids up to age four in better-off families compared with 11 million in poor families.

‘Reading Recovery’ the well-known NZ program also gets a serve. It is used extensively in the US. I don’t know it personally, but I gather it uses whole word methodology on a one-to-one basis. For this reason it is expensive as a method, but it’s other problems include:

1. It references performance amongst the local group rather than nationally.

2. It discontinues assistance once the kids reach 30th percentile performance.

3. It doesn’t work well for those who are at 15th percentile or lower, ie. those who need help most.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Sounds like Mem Fox really backed a loser. Ah well she’s had a pretty good run and can take some comfort from the royalties. To err is human Mem. To be forgiven, well that’s going to be Devine.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks Brian – I’ll post that link above for those who want to get some background on the literacy/pedagogy controversies.

Don
Don
2022 years ago

Lyon’s point that “The discussions between caretakers, Moms and Dads, with kids from poverty are very truncated, so the vocabulary development isn’t very strong at all.” Is interesting.

In Australia some commentators are trying to create the impression that:

1. Public schools are controlled by the lefty educational establishment.

2. These educational elites are in the grip of whole language and other trendy nonsense.

3. Poor kids go to public schools while many better off kids go to private schools (charter schools anyone?).

4. As a result, poor kids can’t read properly.

5. The root cause is obviously a predictable effect of left wing policy making (ie whole language, the public education system).

If you were to suggest that we ought to do something about poverty or economic inequality you’d be howled down. After all, that’s the kind lefty nonsense that causes all these problems in the first place.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Hi to harry.
I read Emma Tom’s column, and didn’t have any trouble with it (although it wasn’t as funny as she sometimes is). I wonder if you read the bits that said “Far less trouble when it comes to objectionable writing is simply to turn the page” and “unlike so many of Devine’s detractors, I have no difficulty gripping the top right-hand corner of the page on which she appears and turning it firmly to the left”?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Don, a similar point was made by Jenny Macklin. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t get much of a run in the press with it. I guess we’ll get some stories instead about how ineffectual she is as education spokesperson.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

A further comment re Miranda Devine, Emma Tom and journalists in general. Many (probably most) journalists writing opinion pieces for major newspapers frequently express controversial views with the aim of provoking a reaction. Controversy sells newspapers. Whether they actually hold all the views they profess in print is another matter. Like all of us, they have different “personas” depending on the context. Miranda Devine’s journalist persona (which I don’t deny may well be obnoxious, I don’t actually read anything she writes) probably falls into the category of deliberately provocative. Her government inquiry member persona is likely to be far more circumspect. And this is still not to say that I think she has any particular qualifications for membership of the inquiry panel.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Hi Don, you have summed up my viewpoints very well. I know you were taking the piss but never mind, you are on target.

Any chance that you can help me out by summing up why you don’t agree just as efficiently? Or just get me started on the right track? When you’ve done that, publish it because seriously the middle classes are bleeding from the eyes trying to pay those fees and if you can convince them they are wasting their money you will be a national hero. I don’t think you can frankly but the cause is just. Have a go.

OK, I don’t buy point number 3 either, I know many parents struggle to free the kids from the gulags (see points 1,2,4,5 for why) and I know that in my day (the eighties) many middle class areas the trendies sent their kids to the government school for “ideological reasons” (translation: they were piss mean and were pouring the bread into shares and property)

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Hi Alex,

“journalists writing opinion pieces for major newspapers frequently express controversial views with the aim of provoking a reaction.”
That defence didn’t work for John Laws and it’s not going to work for you.

So poking you in the eye for 15 hours, or singing the first two lines of Agga-do for three weeks straight is justified because it provokes a reaction?
This as no justification of, or permission for, presenting stuff that is simply wrong. She has a responsibility to not be the hack she is.

“Miranda Devine’s journalist persona (which I don’t deny may well be obnoxious, I don’t actually read anything she writes)”

So why are you posting about it?

Just read some of her stuff. Call me once you’ve clawed your own eyeballs from your head out of embarrassment for her existence.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Not nice, harry. Comparing people whose opinion you don’t like with John Laws is pretty low.

I didn’t say being provocative in print was justified (although I don’t particularly care if journalists want to be). I said that it was a common tactic, for the simple reason that controversy sells. And to whom, I wonder, does MD have “a responsibility to not be the hack she is”?

I wasn’t posting about what MD writes. I was commenting on the bilious nature of the criticism of her on this thread.

Finally, I don’t have to read her stuff, neither do you, and nor do I have to read any more of your comments on this thread. Consider this correspondence closed. Cheers!

harry
harry
2022 years ago

“Not nice, harry. Comparing people whose opinion you don’t like with John Laws is pretty low.”
Oh, I would have thought I was trying to provoke a reaction. Trust me that Miranda does far worse than what you reckon I’ve done here.
You missed the point. John Laws got pinned for vilifying homosexuals. His producer defended him by saying Laws served society by provoking reaction and prompting discussion.
This didn’t cut the mustard with the judge, so Miranda can’t rely on it either.
You can’t dismiss the hoo-har around Miranda as “reactions being provoked” – she is simply factually incorrect and offensive.

“And to whom, I wonder, does MD have “a responsibility to not be the hack she is”?”
The public and the people she defames, misrepresents and falsely attacks in her coloumn. She also owes it to the people who think her facts are correct and conclusions are justified to actually have this as the case.
We have enough problems with misinformed people as it is without somebody in a position of power fanning the flames of that ignorance (strange metaphor of what?)

I wasn’t posting about what MD writes. I was commenting on the bilious nature of the criticism of her on this thread.
# The bilious nature of the criticism is solely based on what she writes.
It worries and astounds me that you haven’t bothered to try and understand the reasons behind the criticism.

“Finally, I don’t have to read her stuff, neither do you,…”
# Sure, but other people do and they think it is true. There is a problem with this.

” …and nor do I have to read any more of your comments on this thread. Consider this correspondence closed. Cheers!”
# You forgot one little thing….
The reason our discussion is worth more than anything Devine has ever read is _because_ we have had this back and forth. I think it was Aussie Bob who made the stirling comment that media commentators should have to defend their columns. Miranda would be torn to shreds – both by people who disagree with her and by those who agree with her but see her as making them look bad.

Just read her stuff, ok.

Next week we can have a discussion where you defends men’s right to give birth.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

No, we don’t have to read Miranda.

But Alex’s defence that Miranda may have a provocative persona is interesting. You can be pungent and funny, and conjure fantastical situations, but sooner or later the point you are making has to a) be something you believe in and b) not a gratuitous attack for money on other people. Like schoolteachers, for instance.

Both of these are reprehensible – by appeal to the basic premises of our society.

To be serious, because Alex seemingly doesn’t want me to be funny, I object to stacking public office with your mates. Kroger, Pearson, Devine – no.

I can’t go on the board of Billiton (or whatever that thing is called now) because of my beliefs. There is a question of expertise involved.

Same for the government. And when I suspect that person is occupying the seat in order to disrupt the institution – think National Gallery – and bend it to certain policy lines no matter what the advice of the staff and CEO, my fingers begin to fumble for the bludgeon of mockery. That being the only weapon that enables me to express the kind of violation I feel.

Another good example of this, for instance, is the review of the National Museum, which had a professor of sociology, a banker, an anthropologist associated with Christopher Pearson, and a paleobiologist. That is a distorted group. History, popular culture, tourism, the audience anybody… oh yes, the banker must speak for these. The result was described in SMH at http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/07/1070732077352.html .

I got to this because I was googling the Board’s treatment of Dawn Casey, because it is a publically discussed version of the dangers which this kind of appointment represents. Again, described on SMH at http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/05/1070351792271.html?from=storyrhs.

When Casey looked around the boardroom table, she saw a phalanx of the Prime Minister’s men staring back. “If you appoint a chairman who’s a current member of the executive of a political party, and a councillor who’s the prime minister’s biographer, and another councillor who has written speeches for the prime minister, then of course, you will get the strong perception of political interference,” she says.

In interviews with the Herald over the past six weeks, she has spoken frankly for the first time about the museum’s debilitating internal struggles over claims that it has misrepresented Australian history. She blames two board members – Barnett, who co-wrote a biography of John Howard, and the conservative columnist and former Howard speechwriter, Christopher Pearson – for creating a “destructive” atmosphere on the board. “There were articles in the press, extremely critical internal memos … I even had a phone call from Christopher demanding that we change a certain display in the museum. It went on and on and on.””

As a citizen, this stuff horrifies me. It is deeply improper. Can’t you imagine trying to run the place with integrity?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Well said, David, very well said.

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

I’ve just been a’googling on this topic and found a transcript of an interview with Alan Jones on December 1st. it’s at Brendan’s web-site (http://www.dest.gov.au/Ministers/Media/Nelson/2004/12/tran011204.asp). Here’s an excerpt:

Interviewer:
Youre quite right, youre 100% correct. If literacy teaching is such a success why do universities have to set up classes in remedial grammar?

Brendan Nelson:
Well precisely. And Ive got to say Alan I have people applying for jobs with me over the years whove got blinking law degrees and the first thing Ive got to do as I go down the application is correct the spelling. Youve got to ask yourself if you want to set your kids up for failure in life, allow them to go from primary school to secondary school barely able to read.

Obviously, Brendan hasn’t been checking the applications from the people with computing degrees. Or something. But what’s really impressive is that Brendan appears to have completed 18 years of primary, secondary and university education without picking up any demonstrable analytical or reasoning skills.

You can get the official story on the inquiry at
http://www.dest.gov.au/schools/literacyinquiry/default.htm.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Gummo, I would have thought the great majority of people who complete primary, secondary and university education these days have zilch “demonstrable analytical or reasoning skills”.

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

Alex,

Brendan didn’t complete his education “these days”. He completed his education in “those days” before everything went to pot. I guess he bunked the clear thinking classes in Year 11 & 12 English to have a smoke behind the shelter sheds or something.

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Hmm, I think I must have missed them too … or maybe I completed my education *before* they were introduced. I have had to learn the little I know about clear thinking the hard way.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

I am not at all sure what Miranda Devine is doing on that board and it may be that I agree with David and others who are not happy about the appointment.

David’s use of political interfence in the National Museum as an example gives me a kind of hope. Broadly speaking, if Howardarian conservatives are starting a long “march through the institutions” their attempts must be laughably amateurish when compared to what the left has achieved over the past generation. Amateurish as it is I sincerely hope there is some kind of movement taking place and the National Museum is a good place to learn and practice for the more challenging places with bigger budgets, like the ABC.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

James, with regard to the ABC, I guess Jonathan Shier didn’t have enough practice!

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/ 2002/06/03/1022982671211.html

trackback
2022 years ago

Research and The Devine Miss M

Over at Troppo, Mark Bahnisch writes about Miranda Divine being included on a panel to discuss the merits of whole language versus phonics in teaching chidren how to read.

Mark