Monthly Archives: May 2008

write on

How to take a trip and never have to leave the farm. Dates me – and possibly you too, if you remember the Jim Stafford song about the Wildwood Weed. No, I haven’t been exploring the apparent joys of having a sack of seeds, or buds (now just stop that, you rascals), instead I have been offline, reading and writing up the first draft of my study proposal. It feels not too bad, however I’m torn between thinking I haven’t done enough (seven pages) while think I’ve done too much (two pages was the request). But what to cut out? And will that damage my chances? Is too much likely to damage my chances?

It’s giving me the freak out, no doubt. I think I might compromise and trim down the seven pages to two pages of elegant simplicity, and then send both documents. Or maybe, attach the rest as an appendix. Or do more research and expand it out to – say – a succinct 20 (or so) pages. I believe Einstein’s doctoral thesis was about a dozen pages, pretty much based on what happens in a cup of very hot tea. S’true.

the one song…

This is the one song I think anyone, perhaps even me, could sing in karaoke. But strangely (perhaps luckily) I don’t think I have ever heard it – karaoke-wise, I mean. Go-warn, you know you wanna; sing along to perhaps the best Stones sing along song ever…

the prodigal son…

I am in the process of negotiating for some further study. It’s a bit of scary process – getting started in study again will mean changes about how I spend my money, my time, and perhaps most fundamental of all, the study will – as ever before – change the way I think, forever. That can be both liberating and frightening at the same time. Overwhelming even. Whenever I mention undertaking more study, friends and family always ask me, ‘Why?’, and ‘When are you going to finish studying?’. People used ask me when was I going to grow up. The answer, of course, is: NEVER!!!

I digress. Walking down Lambton Quay in the sun at lunchtime today, I was thinking about the biblical story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I remembered a key concept was that the prodigal son went off to some interesting foreign parts and squandered his inheritance. His snipe-y brother stayed home, and well, I guess, didn’t get his inheritance until later.

I started to wonder about nature of the inheritance (and the squandering of it). It occurred to me that the prodigal son actually took his share of the inheritance, and invested it in education. Sure, being hungry enough that pig swill seems attractive isn’t the easiest lesson, but it probably leads to a thoroughly unforgettable education nevertheless. I bet it changed how he spent his money, his time, and perhaps most fundamental of all, changed the way he thought, forever. His older brother, peeved at the welcome his father put on for the graduate, missed the point entirely.

So, here I am, with further study in my sights. What is my inheritance, and how and what exactly am I going to squander? It occurred to me that the one inheritance I do have is my collected culture – values, attitudes, knowledge, and stories unique to me, passed on from my parents. I have the intellectual abilities and genetic inheritance, courtesy of countless generations of ancestors who didn’t expect me to show up in some unimaginable future, but I like to think they selected mates with the pragmatic intention of producing the best, next, generation. I guess there might’ve been some ‘whoa, look at that hottie’ thrown in as well.

And this is my best reason for studying. No, not the hottie, but because I can. Because I have to. Because if I don’t I’d be like the prodigal’s snipe-y brother – I’d be squandering my inheritance if I didn’t study. All the efforts, the sacrifices, the pain, the adventures, the happiness, sadness, decisions good and bad – the sum of everything that my ancestors have done to put me here would be in vain. Standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, I have to study. Have to. Because I can, therefore I should. I must.

No pressure. None at all.

the road to monkey heaven

Tidying up some of my papers, decluttering the past, I found a handwritten note (in my hand writing)…

The road to monkey heaven is

a) paved
b) littered
c) barricaded with good intentions

While I’ve really liked finding the various ‘message in a bottle’ that I’ve some how sent to the future me, some of them are very mysterious, and I wonder if I’ve just found them too soon – that they were planned to be read by the more advanced me. Or maybe just unexpected marginalia from the past.

so, where’s all the money gone then eh?

I don’t understand why New Zealand has this on-going issue with literacy. I have an opinion or two, but I don’t understand it.

My parents learned to read and write using a slate. I still have my grandmother’s school exercise books that she wrote when she was 8-10. There’s a message there – learning has been valued in my family for generations – or the books wouldn’t have been saved. As an aside it speaks volumes for the quality of paper in those days. Mum and Dad taught me to read and write before I went to school – I wrote and made drawings in the white space in newspapers, and on the brown paper groceries were wrapped in in those days. There wasn’t a whole lot of money in our house. I learned more words at school (the teacher used flash cards) and I was able to access more books. Dad cherished books, and would read us comics (yay) and articles from the newspaper (somehow not the same). We were given books as gifts. My parents never attended high school, however my siblings and I can all read and write. Our children (and their children) can also read and write. Could there be a gene for it?

Over the years tens of thousands (if not millions) of dollars have been spent (wasted?) on literacy. And the issue is still here – worse now than ever. I don’t have the figures to substantiate the worsened condition, however, I offer that if, after the investment, the issue exists at all then the issue has worsened. I am concerned that literacy may have become resistant to the financial drugs that have been applied.

Technology doesn’t appear to have offered any sort of wonder drug either. I’m old enough to remember when Sesame Street first aired on New Zealand tv. I recall the clapping of hands from the teaching community that – at last – we were going to see a new generation of bright, clean, literate kids in schools. Not that there’s anything wrong with hand clapping, or freshly scrubbed youngsters with reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic skills. A little later we had the Spanish component of the drug removed, and the Maori upgrade applied. And I think this was a good thing too – reaches further into our national heart and spirit.

I became involved with teaching when I discovered one of my work mates (aged in his early twenties) couldn’t read and write sufficiently well to be able to withdraw $70 from the bank. He’d had to run back and forth between a couple of branches, withdrawing $10 at a time…

I can understand people arriving in New Zealand needing assistance with practical New Zealand English. I have worked with students who’re highly educated in their own country and context – an electrical engineer with a Masters degree from Taiwan, a high court lawyer from India, a business executive from Japan, an architect from Iran, a vet with a double doctorate from Yugoslavia, and others. They didn’t have any literacy issues – they did have English issues.

When I began learning how to help people learn I was told that ‘If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught’.

I’ve often writhed with this when I’ve had students come back with less than stellar performances, leaving me wondering what else I could’ve, should’ve done. I’ve spent many an hour outside of the classroom building better resources, tuning my writing, reading texts to improve my practice – whatever I could come up with to try to get the seed to germinate and grow for the student(s) concerned.

I can remember talking to a daunting ‘guru’ who somewhat pointedly let me know it was my post-colonial attitude that caused me to blame the victims. At the end of our conversation I think we wanted me to feel guilty for every education malaise in New Zealand since the arrival of humans. Not that he had any solutions either, although I suspect he would’ve been very adept at dealing with any surplus funding.

On the one hand I don’t understand why New Zealand has any literacy issues, and on the other hand I don’t understand where the money has gone. Recently I’ve spoken to a number of people expressing my incomprehension that the issue is still with us. Not one had any better answer. Oddly, no one mentioned needing more money, or more technology. Today I finally had an inspiration. Saying “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught’ is tantamount to saying, ‘If the patient succumbs, the doctor hasn’t practiced medicine’.