Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers. (2)

February 28, 2016

Once again The Sunday Times has provided Western Australian teachers with real-life examples so their students can have the opportunity to criticize adults’ writing.  The best one this week is from the Editorial. (Responsibility for editorial comment is taken by the editor, Rod Savage, 34 Stirling St, Perth, Western Australia  6000 – do send him a letter of thanks!)

In the section headed “Keep Bullies at Bay” (Page 38, News, The Sunday Times, 28 February 2016) the Editor addresses controversy over the Safe Schools scheme, which – acknowledging that ignorance is often behind out-grouping – addresses the range of sexual orientations.  The editorial’s final two paragraphs provide several topics for criticism and discussion:

“Everyone recognises the need to implement strategies to protect all children from bullying.  And that must include students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We should not let these children down just because the scheme doesn’t sit comfortably with some politicians.  We can’t ignore the real risks of suicide and self-harm.  We live in an enlightened society and we shouldn’t incubate schools from that.  Critics say the scheme has highly sexual content which is more about ideology than helping children deal with bullying.

By all means, review the content, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Remember, prejudice, fear and by extension bullying, stem from ignorance.”

Comment

  1.  “… we shouldn’t incubate schools from that …”
    In this case, the desired word is probably “insulate.”  Mrs Malaprop had the habit of using fancy words in order to try to appear admirably educated, and (like Kath and Kim) showed her actual class by her incompetence – thus the literate reader’s derision of malapropisms.  However, in the more Hemingway-driven style of the popular press,  a technical term is often used because there is no simpler alternative, so the journalist who is not certain must not rely on the spellchecker.  “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”  is a marvellous tag.
  2. The first paragraph sentence order and sentence division
    “Everyone recognises the need to implement strategies to protect all children from bullying, and that must include students who are gay, lesbian, or transgender.  We can’t ignore the real risks of suicide and self-harm.  We should not let these children down just because the scheme doesn’t sit comfortably with some politicians:   we live in an enlightened society and we shouldn’t incubate (sic) schools from that. ”  Is that a better order?  Is it better to combine the first two sentences by using the comma before  “and” instead of a full stop?  Is the colon a better choice than a full-stop after “politicians”? Why, or why not?
  3. The paragraph break. 
    Would the final sentence of the second-last paragraph  be better as the first sentence of the final paragraph?  Why, or why not?
  4. Remember, prejudice, fear and by extension bullying, stem from ignorance.”
    This is also  worth a class discussion:
    – Why does the author have “by extension” before “bullying”?  – Would “as a result” be better than “by extension”?  Do the answers to the following change if we use “as a result”?
    – Would it be better as “… prejudice, fear, and (by extension) bullying stem …” or as  “… prejudice, fear, and by extension bullying stem …”  or as “… prejudice and fear and, by extension, bullying stem …” or even as  “…prejudice and fear (and, by extension, bullying) stem …” ?
    –  Is the Oxford Comma the best choice here, and if not, why not?
    Why do the suggested alternatives remove the comma between “bullying” and “stem”?   Should the comma remain? Why?
    – Why do the suggested alternatives separate  “by extension” from the surrounding “and bullying”?  Is this necessary? Why?

Thank you, Rod Savage.  Perhaps you could consider these questions before passing such items for publication?

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Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers.

February 22, 2016

Australian newspaper editors seem to have decided to follow the advice to journalists “to write at a 7th-grade level” 

Unfortunately, they are printing works at the level of current 12-year-old average output, not at the level a 12-year-old might be expected to read.  This provides weekly items to help teachers develop their students’ editing skills, including reading the surrounding text to infer the probable meaning and then discussing the choice of improved wording.

For example, in a piece on education (I did appreciate the irony) regarding Civics and Citizenship, Claire Dickers wrote:

Education Minister Peter Collier conceded the approach to teaching history had been “ad hoc” for generations.

But, he would be “very surprised” if teachers using contemporary examples within the classroom politics.

(The Sunday Times 21.02.2016, News, page 35)

Comment:

I think it was supposed to mean “if teachers were not also using contemporary examples to teach the basics of Australian politics.”   It may have carried some implication that the use of past examples in teaching politics contributes to students’ awareness of Australian history.

I would prefer “However,” to “But,” as a sentence beginning, particularly as it is a new paragraph.  Had the author written “generations, but he …”  I would not have complained about the conjunction.

Then, on the very next page, a photograph caption  begins:

Fearless West Australian surfer Jarryd Foster has taken on, and defeated, a death-defying wave in Portugal.

(The Sunday Times 21.02.2016, News, page 36)

Comment

I do not think the wave had any inclination to defy death.  The photograph suggested that surfing it might possibly be deadly, and to most of us would be terrifying – and riding it was certainly a death-defying act.  The wave itself, however, seems to be (if one may attribute such things as attitude and awareness of its future to a hydrological event) merely going about its duties in an exemplary, even enthusiastic manner, with no attempt to evade the final cessation of the wave-form.  Surely, the wave was (again, providing one accepts that it can have attitude and awareness) accepting rather than defying its death?

The dissection of a gruesomely malformed creature may be educational, but I would prefer not to have to see such things on a Sunday morning.

A Newspaper’s exam hints – (sigh.)

March 9, 2014

In “10 writing tips when sitting a written exam”  I read – yes, I read on despite the probable quality  given  the title’s poor construction – :

“Affect / Effect – Effect is a noun.  For example – Cyclone Connor had a great effect on the town.  Affect is a verb(doing word).  For example, – The virus affected Libby so much that she had two days off school.”

(Sunday Times “Chillout” NAPLAN liftout, 09.03.14)

This explanation is, to be polite, sub-optimal.  The explanation given means that the students are not prepared for real world uses of the words. Both words ARE  used as noun and verb.  The REAL difference lies in the prefix.

The root is the Latin facere, “to do or to make” – the same root as “factory”.  The prefixes are ex– (outward or out of) and ad-  (towards or onto)  which assimilate to the “f” of facere to make the words effect and affect.

The noun is the outcome of the verb.  Thus, when you effect a change in something, you have an effect on it – the change goes out from the one who is the centre of our attention.

Affect is the change from the point of view of the one changed: If you affect an accent or a style of dress, you put it on your self; the virus affects you when it has an effect on you.  It is usually used as a verb, but is also a noun.  The noun “affect” means feeling or visible emotional response: “The depressed man showed flat affect.”

This leads to different understandings of other words.  For example, consider “Affection”: feelings making one want to go towards a thing, a different play on the same root and prefix;   “Affectation”: a style or behaviour  affected for effect.

Explaining it this way leads to improved comprehension and spelling, as more words are analysed in terms of their prefixes, suffixes, and roots.  Seeing our words as Lego-like constructions is a powerful literacy approach – and a great tip to help with written exams.

How hard is it to get it right? If newspaper conglomerates can’t afford an academic’s consulting fee, how much does a literate journalist cost?  Remember, the ones most likely to read them are the ones who have few other sources to check.  Do newspapers have a social responsibility here?

When common usage leads to poor transmission of ideas

October 25, 2013

When I was learning English, “Substitute X for Y” meant that Y was the standard and X would be the substitute.   About ten years ago, newspaper cooking columns started to use it to mean the opposite – in a brandy cake you could “substitute brandy for your favourite liqueur.”   They ignored pedantic attempts to get them to change their ways.  (Hey, I teach small children: pedant by definition…)

Now a spokesman says that the National Heart Foundation guidelines recommend that we “substitute saturated for polyunsaturated…”  From context, I am sure that he meant the opposite.  (27.30 on  http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3876219.htm )

Thought:

Many dictionary-linguists have trained through Anthropology, and use its emphasis on cultural relativism – report what is done, do not make value judgements on others’ ways of being.  They  push for dictionary definitions and grammatical texts to reflect current usage (“…it means just what I choose it to mean,” said Humpty.) 

We teach literacy with concern for the transmission and reception of ideas.  How do we balance the push to Humpty with the need to transmit thought clearly across age groups, nations, and centuries?

A legend with moral authority

September 30, 2013

I am considering a question from implementing the Australian Curriculum: why and how to teach history.   (I am also breaking a half-dozen of the “rules” they teach for writing-to-the-test, because my authentic voice doesn’t fit the standard pattern.  Just saying …)

My main interest here is not the understanding that, as Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”  It’s not the hope that flows from seeing the marvellous changes over time, and the thankful feeling from comparing most of the-lives-lived with our own.  (I really appreciate instantaneous hot water, vaccination, soap, and eye-glasses, for example.)  It’s not the intellectual training from asking the questions like “When does now become history?  How do we know what happened – what do historians do?” – or the surprises that brings when we find that our “history” was propaganda, as in Josephine Tey’s “Daughter of Time.”  (Worth borrowing from the library, even if you have read it – I reread it this week, and was enthused.)

It’s the creation of legends with moral authority, to give a deeper meaning to”Being Australian.”

Consider the etymology of the word:

from the delightful http://etymonline.com  legend (n.)

early 14c., “narrative dealing with a happening or an event,” from Old French legende (12c., Modern French légende) and directly from Medieval Latin legenda “legend, story,” literally “(things) to be read,” on certain days in church, etc., from Latin legendus, neuter plural gerundive of legere “to read, gather, select” (see lecture (n.)). Used originally of saints’ lives; extended sense of “nonhistorical or mythical story” first recorded late 14c. Meaning “writing or inscription” (especially on a coin or medal) is from 1610s; on a map, illustration, etc., from 1903.

As a child I came across “Van Loon’s Lives” and was entranced by the stories of truly interesting people from the past.  I read and watched many biographies, but few were of Australians, and none of those struck me as really amazing.  It was only as an adult, through an ABC Radio National program (one which seems no longer to be on the net, alas)  that I was introduced to the life of an Australian whom I rate with those Van Loon chose:  Sir John Monash.

Sir John Monash was the child of Jews who had emigrated from Prussia, at a time when Jews were socially unacceptable unless wealthy (remember, this bias continued in many places even after WWII – “No Blacks or Jews” signs in lodging house windows.)  He excelled at school and loved music and drama as well as  languages and mathematics.  A respected  engineer, he served in World War I as an officer – not in Engineering – becoming one of the most respected Generals of the war.  Higher ranks were impressed by his planning, execution of plans, and ability to command; returned soldiers appreciated his victories, but praised his ability to get them hot food.

After the war, he chose not to seek election to Parliament, but – despite social rejection by some traditionalists – used his skills to improve the country.  For example, he worked as the head of the Victorian State  Electricity Commission, changing electricity from a “rich man’s commodity” to a basic utility.

A more important example to consider: when the police were on strike and looting and rioting broke out, he led – at the request of the Premier – a group of other  generals and ex-servicemen ( five battalions, not just a mob) to restore order.  Another:  when the State government had rejected a proposal for developing the power grid, he talked his way into addressing the Cabinet, and told them 

‘Gentlemen,  you have rejected my proposal because you have clearly failed to understand it’. He explained it to them. For thirty minutes. In the end, they agreed! He then said ‘Well, you will now need an Order in Council to implement the decision’, pulling from his pocket one that he had prepared earlier. He stood there while it was signed.

There are many sites with pieces on his life, but I am interested in an aspect less commonly (at present) reported: his decision not to lead armed groups to overthrow the Australian Government.   The Australian Returned Services League (RSL) has one teaching resource which puts it in historical context ( it is in Source 9), and Engineers Australia has a biography    where it is in his life context on page 9.

An outsider by birth, often insulted for his race and his ideas, a brilliant man who cared for the unfortunate, a polymath  who had won the respect of common soldiers, an expert who faced down politicians for the good of the State, a man who saw fools in elected positions of power at a time of crisis, a man who was then offered the chance to take control of the nation  – and supported the fledgling democratic system.  Would you like that to be the children’s idea of a hero?  Their idea of  what it is to be Australian?

That’s a man who deserves to become a legend.

Education policy setting us up for increased prison populations.

August 23, 2013

It seems strange that, in the one week, our State government both announces staffing cuts in Education and announces that they have to put more funds into education because the State Schools’ student numbers are increasing beyond forecast levels.  This is after an election where they claimed to have the budget under control and “fully funded” all their promises.  (No, I didn’t believe them, but many did.)

They have already cut the staff in the Personnel area so much that services are affected, and cut expert support so much that the experts have barely time to catch the phone calls let alone research answers, and yet they are cutting “non-frontline areas” further. In 1996 it was estimated that 20% of Western Australian school students were of non-English speaking backgrounds (http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/verve/_resources/wa_file.pdf); personal observation says the percentage has increased. These students are particularly at risk, and (experience shows) likely to shift schools, but staffing policies are cutting the support and staffing flexibility the frontline workers need to deal with the range of students’ backgrounds. This is like the army destaffing the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps. (USA equiv: Quartermaster Corps)

They already have students in Years pp-2 who desperately need more one-on-one work, (What do you expect, when the electronic babysitters combine with non-english speaking background and with  toilet training falling out of fashion?) yet they are cutting Education Assistant numbers. They are setting the scene for increased imprisonment rates when those children – often those from disadvantaged backgrounds – reach their late teens. Many countries’ prison services have said (e.g. http://www.doc.nv.gov/sites/doc/files/pdf/education/Education_Services_Spring_2012_Newsletter.pdf) that teaching these children to read is vital. They are also setting the scene for more violent juvenile crime, as lower literacy is linked to antisocial aggressive behaviour.( Reading failure and juvenile delinquency. Hogenson, Dennis L. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1975-09851-001)

I am short-sighted, but I can see ahead more than ten years.  Pity the electorate doesn’t.

Say what? Beyond jargon to brain pain

April 16, 2013

For the record:  I have university qualifications, starting my studies  in Medicine and ending with qualifications in Anthropology, Linguistics, Psychology, and Education.  Postgraduate included.  I can handle jargon from Anthropology to Zoology.

So I was impressed when a Literacy Education Theory article strained my brain.   I think it is worth examining, to see what took it beyond the usual run of jargon.  (As usual, I prefer not to name names when I find writing worth negative comment.)

Background

To start with, my background awareness, summarized well by the OED:

Definition of semantics (noun)

[usually treated as singular]

  • the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. The two main areas are logical semantics, concerned with matters such as sense and reference and presupposition and implication, and lexical semantics, concerned with the analysis of word meanings and relations between them.
  • the meaning of a word, phrase, or text

Definition of reflexive (adjective)

  • Grammar denoting a pronoun that refers back to the subject of the clause in which it is used, e.g. myself, themselves.
  • (of a verb or clause) having a reflexive pronoun as its object (e.g. wash oneself).
  • Logic (of a relation) always holding between a term and itself.
  • (of a method or theory in the social sciences) taking account of itself or of the effect of the personality or presence of the researcher on what is being investigated.
  • (of an action) performed as a reflex, without conscious thought:at concerts like this one standing ovations have become reflexive
Definition of morphogenesis  (from Greek morphē ‘form’ + genesis beginning)(noun)  [mass noun]

  • Biology the origin and development of morphological characteristics.(i.e. physical structures)
  • Geology the formation of landforms or other structures.

Derivatives

morphogenetic  (adjective)

morphogenic (adjective)

(Please note the idea that the form being begun is considered to be pretty much unchanging, except by metamorphosis.)

The Text

The article was talking about teachers’ decision-making, and various things in the context of decisions which affected the final decision.

It referred to teachers’ “reflexive decisions”, meaning (I inferred, eventually) decisions made after careful consideration of a range of personal and external influences.  What most of us would call “considered decisions”.

It referred to “morphogenetic”,  defined in the article as meaning “transformative”.  This usage  confused me, as the term one would expect is “transformative” or -from metamorphosis “a change of form, a transformation” – metamorphic.

A major author in the references (this was a peer-review journal, so they drop in many references) was M. Archer.  This was the source of the jargon, I think, as ve was cited as using the root “morpho” to indicate that “society has no pre-set form or preferred state.”

This led me to wonder why  experts in literacy education would willingly use jargon which a literate reader finds both confusing and etymologically unsound.  Surely one would check that one’s proposed jargon did not clash with well-recognised usage from other fields?

Wondering still, I read on… “The relationship between writing, school instruction, and language cannot be underestimated.”  I deduced, from context, that an old-style editor would have corrected it to “should not”   or   “must not”.

Finally, I came to a diagram:

where would you put the arrows?

This raised more questions :  Would the “reflexive action” box be better outside the oval?  Could there be influence arrows from objective to subjective (considering Social Constructivist theory) and from the action box to internal and external headings?  Why do I always have to see things as being more complicated than proposed theoretical descriptions?  If this is the standard of those who educate teachers,  … Why does my brain hurt?

Oh, right.

Conclusion

Yes, I am a pedant.  Yes, I find semantic distinctions important.  Yes, I believe that jargon should be carefully crafted.

I believe that the increasing percentage of people using Engish as a second language calls for  more precise use of English:   people like me can translate poor writing,  but others rely on the correct semantics being there so that their support systems (such as the OED) can provide meanings the readers do not have as personal knowledge.

Graphing climate change: an activity examining persuasive graphing / writing

October 31, 2011

The New Scientist had a graph, reproduced below.  It struck me as a good teaching example, both as a source for examining the effects of presentation choices on interpretation and as a trigger for discussion on the distinction (if any) between persuasive writing and biased writing.

The  graph’s title as published was vague, as it related the graph also to an added range of possible effects  cut from this image.   I think of this graph as “Temperature increase in °C for given CO2 concentration, by climate sensitivity to CO2 in °C per doubling of CO2 level”

Questions:

  • What does this graph show ?
  • How does it make you feel about increasing CO2 levels?
  • What title do you prefer at present?
  • Can you imagine the following re-graphing:

– Put temperature increase (the dependant variable) on the Y-axis and CO2 (the independent variable) on the X-axis  (This is, after all, the customary arrangement.)

– double the size of the scale for Atmospheric CO2, so that “100” is as far from the zero point as “200” is at present;

– place the in-graph  labels for “likely Scenarios” “Outside possibilities” and “most likely scenario” so that they  are in the same visual spaces as in the original.

  • Make the new graph you tried to imagine.   It does represent the same data.  Look at it:
  • What title would you give it?
  • Does it make you feel the same way about increasing CO2?
  • Compare the two graphs.  Which do you prefer?  Why?
  • New Scientist has been accused of being biased  in its presentation of the science concerning climate change.   Does the published graph  cross the line between science reporting and biased writing?
  • Is there a distinction between persuasive and biased writing?
  • Is there /should there be  a line between science reporting and persuasive writing?  Why / why not?

 

When is it time to introduce the colon, semicolon, ellipsis and dash?

June 21, 2011

Many  teachers are happy to see bright students reading authors like Paul Jennings.  I am not entirely comfortable with it, and here will explain why.  Then I get really prescriptive …

Most humans learn from example – this is so basic that I won’t bother to reference it.    Once a child has understood if not mastered the real basics – { . , ? !} – it is time for them to practice reading them, to reinforce the learning from example, and also to practice using them.  Again, I expect this is unexceptionable.

This is my contentious proposition:  If teachers are going to assess  writing using a marking format which includes complexity of sentences and punctuation, they hve a duty to make available the tools the child needs to produce the desired complexity.  If they have students who are capable of complex thought, they have a duty to equip them for self-expression as early as possible… regardless of age.  If the child reads only simple texts, where is the learning by example?

Do the above basic introduction, to be sure.   As soon as possible after this, I bellieve that any child who uses complex sentences should be introduced to the ways of punctuating them.   Any text with frequent short sentences (including newspaper articles and classroom books) should be looked at as a literary piece: are there examples ambiguities that could be resolved, repetitions that could be avoided, or relationships that could be made more clear by the use of “advanced” punctuation?  These can be used to demonstrate editing.  By year / grade 5 the class as a whole should be used to the idea of asking “Why has the simple form been used here?”   

Aside: I get the feeling that many writers underestimate (even patronise) their readers, assuming they cannot hold three related concepts in one sentence.

I have seen a (slightly above average) 10-year-old, two weeks after an  introduction to complex structures (and reading, with support, several examples of complex writing) start to talk about how one of these “simple sentence” stories could be made better by combining sentences and weeding out  a few words.

There is, of course, a downside:  an 11-year-old taught this way got into H.P. Lovecraft (try The music of Erich Zann , if you’ve not read any of his work), while ves agemates were into “Goosebumps”.

Choosing the texts

So, what sort of texts do I recommend?  For younger readers, mostly books from before the 1980s –  I give an exerpt from an  Andrew Davies Marmalade Atkins book below,  to give a feel for the level students age 8 – 11 have enjoyed.  His  books are playful yet challenging, so I use them,  but there are many other fine authors for this age whose works an older librarian could recommend.   For older readers, there is a multitude of works over the past 200 years from which to choose.   If you want some history / S&E, try comparing a translation of  the original Anderson’s “Little Mermaid” with the Disney book.  I like Cherryh at the moment, with examples below,  but there are other excellent authors.

 Do, however, check their pattern of punctuation.  Tom Holt is an entertaining writier (see Alexander at the World’s End) , but uses semicolons where The Penguin Guide to Punctuation would recommend a colon.  Indeed, such a style is preferred by some publishers now, to the extent that some teachers consider the older form incorrect.   Therefore, when an opportunity arises, I like to point out the existence of the two schools of thought, and allow the students to choose – and use only – the approach they prefer.   I also (as here) remind teachers of the existence of the two approaches.   (But I give out mainly examples of my preferred style, naturally.)

Examples of texts

In the first piece,  I begin with an Introductory Reference : The Colon and the Semicolon Compared, by Larry Trask .  We then see what CJ Cherryh does with them, and debate her choices.  I do not assert that her choices are always ideal,  but they are worth discussing.  (If students want to see a wider range of her style, I suggest the Russalka series.)

For older students,  small groups try to write their interpretations given those rules (they are expected to look up any words they don’t know, and figure out which words name an ethnic group/ nation / region names);   for younger students a more structured explanation sets the scene, the words are part of word study,  and it is a supervised small group or full class discussion.

CJ Cherryh  Fortress in the Eye of Time

p 246 .  [Heryn,  Lord of Amafel, has been found to have been careless to the point of being criminal concerning Prince Cefwyn’s safety.   Cefwyn, soon to be king of Ylesuin (by Heryn’s treachery), cannot prove the carelessness was deliberate action, or that Heryn has been taxing his people heavily and passing little on to the King.    Cefwyn sits in judgement – in Heryn’s castle.]

“I must bear that, then,” Heryn said, and where sarcasm might have prevailed, perhaps, there was no apparent edge to his voice, only anguish.

Something must be done with him; the whole hall waited, anxious, sceptical of Heryn alike, perhaps embarrassed in Heryn’s fall from dignity, perhaps thinking of their own weapons:  Cefwyn knew the volatility of the region all too well; but he considered rejecting Heryn and his offer, and his tax records, a moment of two longer than he might ordinarily contemplate a move to fracture the peace.

But after such a delay, enough to make Heryn’s face go to pallor, he beckoned the man to rise, and, still frowning, gave him the formal embrace courtesy and custom demanded after such an accepted capitulation.

p 382. [ Idrys is Cefwyn’s spy master, and often goes into danger for him;  Emuin is Cefwyn’s wisest advisor.  The Marhanen are the ruling family, Cefwyn’s family.  Cefwyn has become King, and has made choices that go against his land’s and his family’s traditions]

He cast a frowning look at Idrys, and knew that there was yet another danger that Emuin did not reckon of:  Idrys’ loyalty, and Idrys’ perception.  Idrys had taken an oath of homage to him.  Of fealty to him.  But in the challenge to the Marhanen that those oaths had never anticipated, he found himself without sure knowledge what Idrys’ attachment was: to him, as king; to the realm; to whatever man Idrys served – or to his own unexpressed sense of honor.  Idrys measured things by some scheme that had never yet diverged from his personal welfare.

[Note: from context, I suspect that the “his personal welfare” there is the king’s, and that she would have written “his own” had it been Idrys’ welfare. ]

p 399.  [People from a neighbouring kingdom are invading across Amefel – and the Lord of Amafel and some nobles have recently been executed for treason.  Cefwyn considers what his warlike and successful grandfather had taught him.]

It meant, of course, that the Elwynim disrupted their own harvest by taking men away from the farms, but if in years previous they had had the foresight to hold reserves of their grain, they could bring it from Elwynor, managing the extended supply that Grandfather had declared was the most important item to have secured: Never rely on the farmers for food, was another of Grandfather’s  rules; it makes the farmers mad, gives your enemy willing reports, and it never amounts to what you think it will once you most need it.

Grandfather was silent on the problems of feeding the farmers of Amafel while the armies of five provinces and all the enemy camped on their fields and their sheep-meadows – when the Amefin were farmers and shepherds of the chanciest loyalty in all Ylesuin.  As well the King did stand on their pastures;  holding Amefel otherwise would not be possible.

The next piece is good to read aloud, stopping if necessary to write up and define any unknown words.   There is then the opportunity to hand out an unpunctuated copy, for small groups or pairs of students to choose their own punctuation before seeing how Davies has done it.  This allows discussion of ways of punctuation, and thought about choices, before discussing how the piece was actually punctuated – and then discussing  how he gets away with breaking so many of the formal writing rules  (Lessons:  A  sentence can be very long and yet easy to read, if you punctuate clauses carefully.  A sentence fragment can be a paragraph – if you are writing in an informal style, and if you set up the situation correctly in your readers’ minds .)

Andrew Davies   Marmalade Atkins’ Dreadful Deeds

pp 18 – 19

Torchy was a fat white pony who went round with a secret smile on his face.  He was a very nice pony to ride if you didn’t mind stopping every few yards for him to have a snack.  The other thing he liked to do was roll on his back kicking his legs in the air, and most people found it best to dismount while he was doing this.

And then there was Rufus.  Rufus had come with the farm and nobody knew how old he was.  He wore an old straw hat that didn’t suit him but nobody had ever dared take it off, because although Rufus usually looked half asleep, there was a certain look about his half-shut eyes that warned you not to take liberties with Rufus or his hat.

After his hat, the next thing you noticed about Rufus was his coat, which was rough and thick, and several kinds of red in colour.  There were sandy tufts, and gingery tufts, and carroty whorls, and pinkish stubble.  His coat was of several different lengths, and grew in several different directions, and he looked as if he had just paid a visit to a drunken barber’s.  Despite all this, he seemed a nice old thing, and people who didn’t know him  would cry out: “Oh, what a sweet little donkey!  Isn’t he a love!” and people who did know him would clear their throats and change the subject, and Rufus himself would throw back his head and let out a sarcastic “Hee-haw!” in his very loud and vulgar voice, and if you looked into his sleepy old eyes you could see his crafty old brain ticking over, working out something bad to do.

Because Rufus was a pretty diabolical donkey.

Rufus liked to give people surprises.  One way of doing this was to come up behind them and give them a very gentle nudge with his nose.  Usually they would stroke his muzzle saying “What a sweet old thing!”  Then he would give then another nudge, a bit harder, then a very hard nudge indeed.  After about three nudges, most people fell down, and Rufus would stand on them.  Donkeys look small, but they weigh at least twice as much as your fattest auntie, and it is no joke being stood on by a donkey like Rufus.

Marmalade’s mother would try to smooth the situation over by whacking him with a twig and saying “Don’t be a bore, Rufus!” or “It’s only his way of showing he likes you!” but people who were stood on by Rufus wished he could show his affection in some other way; and those who looked up into his wickedly gleaming eyes thought, but didn’t like to say, that Marmalade’s mother was quite wrong and that Rufus did not in fact like them at all.

And in this they were usually right.

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Alexander at the World's End
 

Alexander at the World’s End

From book launch to class investigation and Civics discussion

May 3, 2011

Public radio prompts many ideas for class projects. Here is one on the problems facing the politicians trying to improve the lives of Aboriginal Australians:

Aboriginal self-determination: The Whiteman’s dream  examines the history of Australian attempts at “Bridging the gap”  and encouraging Aboriginal self-determination.  It was launched with speeches from Mal Brough,  former Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who is a person of Aboriginal background, and Gary Johns, the author.   Mr Brough initiated “the NT  Intervention”, and is seen as a very right-wing thinker, but my interest here is not in is particular political views (although, given his family contacts with remote locality Aboriginal lives,  his speech is worth listening to.)   I want to look at one particular  point raised by speeches at the launch (via ABC RN Counterpoint, in the program aired on 02 May 2011).

According to the speeches, the book reports that the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody  found, in the first 6 weeks, that the statistics for death rates (per year per  thousand, I assume) in custody were not significantly different between Aboriginal and other prisoners.  The Commission continued to investigate the events surrounding Aboriginal deaths in custody, and issued its influential report.

Questions for a class to consider:

  • How can we test the veracity of the  statement that the death rates were the same?
  • From your current knowledge, do you think the causes of deaths in custody are likely to be the same for those of Aboriginal, White Australian, and other ethnic appearances?
  • How could the Government of the time find out what was really happening?
  • What arguments can you think of for and against the Royal Commission continuing the investigation into Aboriginal deaths in particular?
  • What arguments can you think of for and against publicising, at the time of the Royal Commision, the general nature of the rate of deaths in custody?
  • Given the arguments for and against, do you feel that the decisions made were right as far as they went?
  • What else would you have done?

Follow up:

  • How can we find out what statistics are currently available on death rates per ethnic group in and out of custody?
  • What information can we find on historical changes in these rates?
  • Have there been changes in these rates following the Royal Commission?
  • How could a social scientist test whether the death rates over time are affected by Governments’ attempts to change the way Aboriginals are handled in custody, or by other changes in society?

Further follow-up

  • Has this experience changed your ideas on the way Governments work?  If so, what has changed?

I don’t have a class of the age for this, but I’d love to try it someday.  The topic is going to be around for years;  use of the internet to search Government and NGO sites for official statistics, and the class contacting  the Australian Bureau of Statistics to ask for an expert’s advice, are examples of research serious thinkers on controversial matters must do;  and the political problem of choosing how much to make public is  one the voting public must consider if they are to judge politicians’ actions.  All these are things direcly related to the voter’s civic responsibility – and thus well raised in school.