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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 114

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 114

this week: No. 114, 10 JUNE 2004

Contents: --------- * Quiz finds literature knowledge gap

* Next generation need discipline tools

* Manipulating language - education gobbledygook

* Auckland Change Agent workshop - register now

Quiz finds literature knowledge gap

A short test of secondary school pupils has revealed that few are knowledgeable about New Zealand literature. Creative New Zealand chairman Peter Biggs who conducted the quiz, was surprised at the lack of awareness, saying the result was "dismally illuminating". One student thought Anne Frank had set up a commune at Jerusalem on the Wanganui River, while another thought Alice Cooper had written The End of the Golden Weather.

An obvious question arises - do our young people suffer from a literature knowledge gap? They probably do and the reason is not difficult to find.

In the 1970s the teaching of literature in schools became politicised. Books began to be studied thematically. For example, what had Dickens to say about the causes of poverty? Or Jane Austin about the role of women? The historical context and the voice of the author tended to take second place. Consequently, the study of literature went into decline. Now we are largely without a measuring rod to assess quality.

Literature has largely lost its ability to connect the generations. A teacher or a grandparent can no longer presuppose a rich and intimate understanding of things like metaphor and the images of myth, fairy tales and other good writing. The enrichment that accompanies the mutual enjoyment of stories and the insight that provides also need to be revived. It is not that "a terrible beauty is born" rather, we have a widening gap between the generations that needs to be bridged.

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=114.1

Next generation need discipline tools

Following the release of Maxim's Snapshot and the finding that parents are concerned about discipline in schools, media attention has turned to the discipline of children by parents themselves. While it is positive that discipline is being considered within both the family and school context, perhaps the real issue is how parents use disciplinary tactics, including smacking, rather than whether they smack or not.

Violence, abuse and frequent use of physical punishment are detrimental to children and should not be tolerated. However, there is a clear distinction between this abuse and the occasional controlled smack and a reasonable parent knows the difference. Properly administered it is one tool in a repertoire of child management and discipline techniques and it has its place.

One parent in the Snapshot report described it like this: "There are clear guidelines in our family that the children know. Smacks are always administered calmly and without an audience". She goes on to describe how her eldest child "has not been smacked for two years because there are other punishments more appropriate."

We are all familiar in New Zealand with tragic cases of child abuse leading to death. However, these are associated with dysfunctional families rather than the proper and occasional use of physical discipline. A ban on smacking will not prevent these tragedies in the future. We need a generation who can function as responsible and committed parents. That is where the focus should lie in the discipline debate.

To read a longer article by Maxim's Dr Michael Reid on the smacking debate, click here: www.maxim.org.nz/ri/smack_debate.html

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=114.2

Manipulating Language - education gobbledygook

In the cultural battle, language is crucial. Many government departments have so fine-tuned their bureaucratic language that it's virtually impossible for ordinary readers to understand what's being said. The root problem is found in what is known in academic circles as post-structuralism. In simple terms, post-structuralism holds that all meaning is socially constructed - there is no objective reality, truth or 'big picture', but rather, dynamic forces of change and personal and group meaning only.

Few government departments can match the style and rhetoric of the Ministry of Education and the following is an extract from its recent Best Evidence Synthesis series. "Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling" (p. 1):

Quality teaching is defined as 'pedagogical practices that facilitate for heterogeneous groups of students their access to information, and ability to engage in classroom activities and tasks in ways that facilitate learning related to curriculum goals'. The term 'teaching' is used for simplicity but the term 'pedagogy' is also used throughout the synthesis. The wider focus on pedagogy ensures a broad consideration of the range of ways in which quality teaching is accomplished, for example, through culturally inclusive and pedagogically effective task design, through managing resource access for diverse learners, through equipping students with skills for self-regulation, and through training students in specific peer teaching strategies... High achievement for diverse groups of learners is an outcome of the skilled and cumulative pedagogical actions of a teacher in creating and optimising an effective learning environment.

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=114.3

Auckland Change Agent Workshop - last chance to register

There are only a few places left for the Change Agent workshop in Auckland this Saturday morning. The workshop will address issues such as education, the prostitution referendum and the Civil Union Bills. Informative and inspiring, this seminar will equip you to engage effectively with your community on the issues that matter. To confirm a place, please contact Amanda on 09 627 3261 or workshop@maxim.org.nz WHEN: Saturday June 12 TIME: 10am -1pm COST: $10 (includes action pack and refreshments) WHERE: 49 Cape Horn Rd, Hillsborough, Auckland.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Albert Einstein

Education is that which remains when one has forgotten everything he learned in school.

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