Monday Message Board

It’s time for the regular Monday message board, where you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please. My suggested discussion starter: Back to school?

42 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. I’ve been thinking about the whole language / phonics debate in the light of the difference between my two children.

    One of them has a literary kind of gift while the other loves puzzles. Me, I’m the former kind. I can nut out a program or report or an article containing graphs or statistics, sure, but puzzles for their own sake bore me silly.

    (It’s my opinion that doing puzzles “for their own sake” foster connections in the brain and ways of thinking that flow on to other activities and intellectual pursuits – like learning a foreign language – so while I don’t enjoy these activities for their own sake I do not see them as worthless. On the contrary, I think they are very useful pushups for the mind and I should be forcing myself to do more of them – but I think my addiction to playing music is an acceptable substitute).


    The “literary” kid never had any problem with reading at all, so my interest in Whole Language versus phonics was pretty academic. I did notice that the recommendation of most sensible people was that a mixture of the two was probably the way to go.

    Then my second child started school, and unlike the first, he struggled with reading at first. He’d been read to, of course, about as much as the first—maybe a little less given the fact that there were now two children to look after instead of one – but he certainly didn’t miss out there.

    As most of you know, if a kid isn’t doing so well with the (mainly) Whole Language tuition they’re getting, a lot of people decide to try a bit of phonics. I’m no teacher, but I started to sit with him and “sound out� words. I explained how you could, in a limited way, suss out how to say a word using this method.

    He had a lightbulb moment. He saw it as a PUZZLE.

    Could this be the key to which kids are suited to WL and which are suited to phonics? In other words, the kids who enjoy mazes, block puzzles, computer games and so on might be more responsive to phonics because it’s using an intellectual key (“sounding out� syllables) to unlock a puzzle (a word)?

    This could also explain why a mixture of the two methods is preferred by most teachers.

  2. From the SMH today:

    But Professor John Quiggin, from the University of Queensland, said the Coalition would continue to get the credit for the economy as long as it continued performing well. “There’s not really anything Labor can do about it,” he said.

    Now I feel blue on a Monday morning!

    BTW..John…that new photo looks a bit like a younger version of Yusuf Islam 😉

  3. Re phonics, the problem is that whole language does not work. And when it appears to work, it is the time spent with the child that actually works, not whole language. A series of scientific studies with schools using only one or the other, and the results being compared would settle the issue. And this is probably why no major scientific studies have been done. The teaching establishment is ideologically in favour of whole language, and seeking knowledge that would contradict the establishment’s worldview is not to be expected of any ideological group.

    I’m glad Helen’s had success with her children, but the spread of whole language is a shameful episode in educational history, and has caused a great deal of harm to children trying to learn to read.

    For those interested in learning about the history of whole language, and educational ideology generally, I recommend Melanie Phillips’ All Must Have Prizes, Charles Sykes’ Dumbing Down Our Kids, or Ed Hirsch’s The Schools We Need.

    Treating phonics versus whole language as a vexing, hard-to-solve problem is like treating increasing obesity in western societies as a complex issue. There is nothing complex about why obesity is increasing in western societies.

  4. When SuperMac was merely Deputy governor he used economic journalists to warn the market.
    One memorable time was when Ross Gittins, Alan wood and the man before alan mitchell ( Was it Stuch?)at the AFR all wrote within a few days the RBA would raise rates. Only for Bernie to over-rule Super-Mac and cut them!

    Now he is the Guv he can do as he sees fit.
    Thus when I see first alan Mitchell and then alan wood saying the RBA will raise rates before June I tend to think Super-Mac has been back-grounding.

    look out for a 0.25% rise before June and I suspect another before ecember at least.

    My guess is that is all they will do because they are very scared of what over-leveraged housing owners and investors may do.

  5. To keep historical perspective we should all be grateful to the reforms achieved by Hawke and Keating, while acknowledging the pioneering work of Bert Kelly and the “back bench dries” of the seventies. Going back a bit further we find Shann and Hancock and the truly remarkable figure of Sir Hal Colebatch whose life is celebrated in a recent book “Stalwart Knight” by his son, Hal junior.

    The downside of Keating’s term in Canberra was his trashing of the Hewson package, resulting in the Coalition’s unseemly and rapid retreat to conservatism and pork barrelling. That destructive legacy may well loom larger in future histories than his earlier efforts which after all were similar to the package offered by Howard in his period as leader of the opposition during the 1980s.

  6. Paradigm by Ani Difranco.

    An awesome album. Independent artist who has built her own Record Label.

    And all of her CDs (even in australia) carry this for the copyright line:

    “unathorized duplication, while sometimes necessary, is never as good as the real thing”

  7. It’s not on your suggested topic, John, but I find this story, about German women’s dole being cut off should they decline to work as prostitutes, intriguing:

    It seems to me to be a quite logical continuation of the Right’s (here, including Mark Latham ) welfare-as-punishment ideology. Which means that personally I’m appalled by it, but I’m also fascinated by the rhetoric with which the Right have/will use to defend it (I’m assuming), or alternatively to distinguish it, as Workplace Participation Minister Peter Dutton purports to do (first URL above):

    “It would be ridiculous for that to happen [in Australia] … it’s against the code of conduct for job network members … to place any advertisements of this nature on websites or offer them to candidates. There are also very strong screening facilities to ensure this wouldn’t happen.”

    Erm, I don’t see a shred of a coherent philosophy behind Dutton’s attempt at public reassurance. Why is (de facto) sex slavery beyond the pale, when equivalent, non-sex work slavery is one of our government’s core mantras?

    And going back to the German Right’s presumed philosophical underpinnings, why is the coercion to do sex work apparently confined to women? It is not as if there is no demand for male prostitutes – albeit mainly serving men. (From memory, there was a short-lived men-serving-women brothel in Switzerland a while back, but it closed due to excessive and frequent demands for refunds over the quality of the ahem, merchandise).

  8. There’s a flood of letters to the Herald today in response to Adele Horin’s piece in the weekend edition on the plight of Peter Qasim. Several of the letter express surpise that the story didn’t hasn’t received more prominence.

    But it’s not all that surprising. Sure, there was a time when this would have been front page news. But by now we (not everone of course) have become as desensitised to the brutality of our own detention regime as to, say, malnutrition in Africa. That this has been achieved so quickly is an impressive achievement by Howard, Vanstone and Ruddock.

    I have an open mind. If someone can show me how Horin has distorted the picture, and why it makes sense after all for Qasim to stay indefinitely in the Baxter Detention Centre, I’m happy to hear about it.

  9. John, you reported that you blended in pretty well on the streets of Tel Aviv. I was sceptical, but no more.

  10. The new photo really is streets ahead of the old. However, is that a hint of ‘distinguished grey’ I detect in the beard? Is the interminable stress of the blogosphere beginnging to take its toll?

  11. Well, of course reading is working out a puzzle. That is precisely what the term originally meant, in such archaic phrases as “read me this riddle” – the two nouns there are cognate.

  12. I have to disagree with William. At least some versions of ‘whole language’ do work to some extent, just as some varieties of ‘phonics’ also work, to some extent. My experience of literacy teaching in Australia (formerly a teacher, 15 years a parent) has shown me that Australian teachers are very pragmatic and use what works. Generally they are eclectic in their approach and will use different approaches depending on what seems to work with a particular child. The kind of ideological attachment that William describes is, I think, rare in Australia (altho it may be more common in the USA, the place the books he cites deal with).

    Really, ‘whole language’ and ‘phonics’ are not that different. Depending on your variety of English there are something like 2,000 rules needed to convert text into speech. No variety of phonics teaches all the rule—instead they rely on teaching a small subset and hoping kids get the idea and puzzle the rest out from their reading. Whole language (at least, in its non-extreme forms) teaches fewer of these rules than phonics, but makes the same assumption: that kids can work out the rest by exposure to reading. There have been scientific studies of this, notably by Diane McGuinness (see ‘Why our children can’t read’). These studies show that phonics is somewhat better than whole language (but it’s not a big difference), and that the eclectic method (as commonly used in Australia) is slightly better. She also shows that there is another, better way, similar to phonics but based on a sound understanding of linguistics and how ‘reading’ works.

  13. It’s true the problem is worse in America than Australia (coupled with a less rigorous curriculum, lower funding for low socio-economic areas, higher poverty etc.), but the ideological attachment described is strongest amongst the teaching establishment, and less among teachers, both here and overseas (incidentally, Melanie Phillips’ book is, among other things, about literacy in England).

    Take the intellectual incoherence of Mark Latham’s “reading to children” policy. If literacy is the issue, reading to children is no substitute for teaching them to read (via phonics) any more than watching sport on television is substitute for playing sport. It’s no surprise his literacy adviser is Mem Fox, a whole-language fan. Reading to your child is a feel-good activity, and it will strengthen the parent-child bond, but it’s no substitute for the child actually learning to read.

    Re Diane McGuiness’s book (which I have not read) I note the foreword is by Steven Pinker. The same Steven Pinker who writes “classroom practice is set by fads, romantic theories, slick packages, and political crusades. We already know that some methods of teaching reading work better than others; we need more of these assessments, and faster implementations of what works into classroom settings.” and “[T]he insight that language is a naturally developing human instinct has been garbled into the evolutionarily improbable claim that reading is a naturally developing human instinct. Old-fashioned practice at connecting letters to sounds is replaced by immersion in a text-rich social environment, and the children don’t learn to read.”

    I also find your commment that they really are not that different puzzling.

  14. Paul, what makes you think that the ‘German Right’ is coercing people to work? They have a Social Democrat/Green coalition, if I remember correctly.

  15. The notion that teachers will really teach a theory rather than teach kids is ludicrous. Only someone away from kids and schools can utter such tripe.

    Some kids learn to read easily and some don’t. Some methods work better for some kids than others. The notion of a “one-size-fits-all” “readin, ‘ritin,’rithmetic” approach is as much faddism as the rigid whole-language theory (quite possibly confected) teachers are supposed to be doing.

    If whole-language really was so bad, then why are there kids who gone through the system all their lives ending up at university and taking on responsible and complex jobs in adult society?

    Jobs more complex than those of their grandparents quite often.

    The theoretical discussion may be fascinating but it is refuted thus : “Most kids can read.”

  16. William (Post 3) —

    You claim western obesity is a simple problem. I’m not sure it is.

    A few years ago an article in “The New Yorker” magazine described a study of the health problems of Mexican immigrants to the US. The group studied had all come from one village and maintained frequent contact with the village. Their weight ballooned once in the US, although the total calorific content of what they ate did not increase markedly. However, the type of foods they ate changed significantly, so there was clearly some relationship between the type of calories and the body’s decision to store food as fat. I don’t believe western medical science understands this relationship yet. Certainly all the medical people I have ever interacted with have said that weight will fall if you reduce total calories. This is not obviously true if the type of calories also play a role.

    I believe obesity will turn out to be another of the many instances where western medical science starts by blaming the victim, and only later discovers a chemical or biological cause for the condition. We contemporary westerners like to think this is something we left behind us when we adopted the scientific method, but medicine still does it. For years we were told that stomach ulcers were due to stress, and hence our own fault. Only in the last decade has medical science realized that they are mostly due to a bacterium in the stomach, helicobactor pylori. When this bacterium was first discovered, conventional medical wisdom was that no bacterium could live in the acid soup of the stomach. Conventional medical wisdom turned out to be wrong.

  17. William has something of a messaniac quality. Most teachers are pragmatic in what they teach – it is mainly those who don’t understand that each child approaches the puzzle of language in their own way who can be so sure that their one true way is the only way.

    The worst thing about education is that those like William who know best can receive funding from the Federal Government to set up a school.

  18. Erm, I don’t see a shred of a coherent philosophy behind Dutton’s attempt at public reassurance. Why is (de facto) sex slavery beyond the pale, when equivalent, non-sex work slavery is one of our government’s core mantras?

    Neither the German case nor Australia’s are anything like “slavery”, Paul. Nobody is being forced to work. They are free to not work, it simply means they won’t be receiving any money for doing nothing.

    Having the government extort money from other people in order to give it to you is not a basic human right.

  19. It seems to me that Dr Atkins is right. The surge in obesity levels and the related rises in type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease etc are primarily due to excessive consumption of carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars, white flour, pasta etc…. All those things that the various heart foundations and diabetes clinics have been telling us are so good for us. That stupid ‘food pyramid’ with its multiple helpings of simple carbs and high sugar fruits is destroying the health of a generation of mainly poor, though ignorant, people who will eat any rubbish delivered to them provided it is claimed to be 98% fat free.

    Cut out the anti-fat phobia, go for healthy food like steak, eggs, cheeses, nuts, olive oil and getting most of your carbs from nutriment-rich green and red veggies and the world’s worst systematic preventable health problem — and in particular the epidemic levels of type 2 diabetes — will fade.

  20. Paul Watson’s comments are pretty outrageous. I would never insist anyone become a sex worker to get welfare, but I have no problem insisting people do something. It’s okay to insist people “sing for their supper”, but some occupations – like those involving sex, the dead, or the political left (joke!) – should only be for people with the stomach for it.

    As for “Back to school”, I wonder whether Brendan Nelson will finally get it together to abolish compulsory student unionism.

  21. On your home page, the line that should seperate the links from the main part actually runs through the links section. Minor problem, but I thought I would let you know.

  22. Neither the German case nor Australia’s are anything like “slavery�, Paul. Nobody is being forced to work. They are free to not work, it simply means they won’t be receiving any money for doing nothing.

    Having the government extort money from other people in order to give it to you is not a basic human right.

    Yobbo, the principle here is that people should not be coerced to do work which is degrading, obnoxious, or dangerous.

    Here’s a hypothetical. You lose your job and are offered a job as a male prostitute. Let’s assume that by some huge concatenation of circumstances, despite your talent and brilliance (cos you’ll immediately say “oh, that’ll never happen to me”), the ONLY job available at the time is as a male prostitute?

    According to your response, you would have to take it… yes?

  23. Tom Davies,

    I used the descriptor ‘German Right’ as a matter of substance, not nominal designation (note also my pointed reference to Mark Latham). The simple fact is that any real Left government would not have a bar of welfare-as-punishment – for among other reasons, a full employment policy goal obviates the need to even consider it.


    So you’re endorsing 18 y.o. guys (/girls) being cut off the dole if they don’t agree to work in gay (/straight) brothels? If not, please explain where you draw the line, and why (Here, I’m assuming for the sake of the argument that brothels are perfectly legal – they are in Vic; dunno about WA).

    Splat Guy,

    You presumably think it’s fine for someone to be coerced to work in a café being paid *illegally* low wages (see ), but not to work in the stomach-churning sex or funeral industries. Call me old-fashioned, call me a dole bludger, but *my* stomach churns, more than anything, at government complicity with illegal employment contracts.

  24. Centrelink could well modify Dean Swift’s “modest proposal” along lines proposed by Yobbo.

    Unemployed persons could be offered the choice of eating other unemployed persons, or alternatively being on the menu.

    What elegance: a permanent solution wedded to a principle much valued by proponents of consumer sovereignty.

  25. “If whole-language really was so bad, then why are there kids who gone through the system all their lives ending up at university and taking on responsible and complex jobs in adult society?”

    Only 30-40% of people go on to university, in any case, they tend to come from higher socio-economic families where reading is common, and if reading problems crop up they are solved early. It’s the ones who come from poorer homes who have the worst reading skills, and they should be taught to read via the best way, which just happens to be phonics. You’re also aware that a significant fraction of children reach high school without being able to read properly, and that this is unecessary?

    “The worst thing about education is that those like William who know best can receive funding from the Federal Government to set up a school.”
    The worst thing about education is teachers failing to do their jobs properly, and failing their students and their parents. If you doubt this is happening, ask anybody leaving high school about Australian history, geography, or our how our government works.

  26. I believe in a guaranteed minimum income paid through welfare for all who want it, regardless of whether they choose to work or not. So don’t tar me with the ‘sex slavery’ brush. But I see no logical reason why people who believe in ‘mutual obligation’ should treat sex work any differently from other work, to be fully consistent with liberal principles. If sex work is not illegal then it’s work and shouldn’t be subject to special ‘moral’ considerations in work tests.

  27. Jason, that works provided the guaranteed income is below subsistence, so forcing people to work for a top up wage but on the other hand allowing everyone to price themselves into work. It’s just that there are huge transitional problems, which is why I favour using the Kim Swales approach as part of a transition to it (and, indeed, proceed beyond that to a situation where the income is obtained from owned rather than government resources, a modernised analogue of Chesterton and Belloc’s Distributism).

    Katz, taking your irony at face value for a moment, that wouldn’t actually work. A rope frays at the end, so removing the poor physically would tend to generate replacement poor. The outcome would depend on the multipliers involved.

  28. I didn’t propose anything, Katz. I simply pointed out that Paul’s use of the word “slavery” was grossly inappropriate.

    Like Jason, I support the minimum income/negative income tax plan proposed by Milton Friedman and the Australian LDP.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that I think anyone has a “right” to a income provided by the taxpayer – merely that it would be a much more effective taxation/welfare system than what we have now.

  29. Yobbo, you still haven’t answered my question.

    Jason, because of your response no. 29, I’d ask you the same question. In a situation where prostitution was the only option (and remember this is a hypothetical where you can’t use outs such as “I’m too highly skilled, the possibility would never arise”), would you support Centrelink cutting off your benefits if you wouldn’t take it?

  30. PML,

    A piece of rope can be quite short. In fact, the last person remaining may eat him/herself.

  31. Helen
    For the record I see no reason why we couldn’t pay everyone a guaranteed minimum income that is considerably above subsistence regardless of whether they choose to work or not. So the answer is yes under my ideal system, because I might choose to take the lower welfare which is still considerably above subsistence. You really should ask this question of the mutual obligationists who support harsher welfare terms because they want to promote job participation as an ‘intrinsic good’ in itself i.e. to promote conservative values and are now hoist on their own petard because of this sex work example. As a utilitarian I am in favour of some terms and conditions on welfare assistance only insofar as it’s necessary to minimise levels of moral hazard that might make a welfare system unsustainable ( i.e. because everyone goes on it). But a wealthy society can support some people who choose to be deadbeats if they’re willing to trade thst off in return for a slightly lower income. I see no inherent utilitarian interest in everyone being on a regular job. And equally I see no reason to stigmatise some jobs over others (and I mean stigmatise in terms of public policy) as long as the job is legal.

  32. I wonder what any lurking sex workers might think of the implicit assumption behind so many of the ‘progressives’ commenting here that their profession is inherently ‘degrading’? I’d guess they’d be feeling pretty insulted and discriminated against.

  33. No, Helen. I would not have to take it.

    Assuming I refused the job and the government cancelled my welfare payment, there are several other things I could do:

    I could move in with my parents or a friend until I got back on my feet.

    If I had no parents or friends, I could panhandle on the street or wash windows at an intersection for cash.

    Failing all else, I could seek help from a charity organisation.

    But then again, how much does the job pay?

  34. Jim, what browser and OS are you using. Is anyone else having problems with the menu/links column?

  35. Responding in my capacity as ‘anyone else’ rather than ‘Jim’:

    Yes. The grey veil is where it should be when you are on a page for a specific post. But its left edge (the black line) jumps to way to the right when you return to the home page. IE with Windows.

  36. Helen, you may be interested in this I have just cut and pasted from Jerry Pournelle’s latest mail:-

    I’ve pasted it in verbatim since I don’t know which bits will be acceptable to this blogging software. Anyway, the Daily Telegraph is reporting that something very like your not-so-hypothetical is happening right now in Germany, because it was too difficult to frame regulations for a bureaucracy that would have avoided these issues.

  37. I am using Microsoft Internet Explorer with Windows 98. Also happens with AOL and Windows XP. As James Farrell notes, only seems to happen on the home page, looks fine on this page.

  38. It’s the insurance advertising banner that’s pushing the sidebar to the right. The problem should correct itself once the article it’s in has scrolled off the bottom. [Expletive] I.E.

  39. John —

    I also have the problem with the vertical line separating blue from white background on the righ-hand side of the page in fact falling in the middle of the right-hand column of text.

    I am using Internet Explorer 6.0 running under Windows XP.

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