Saturday, September 22, 2012


More than a third of primary school children are failing writing standards because they don't read enough and are confused by texting language and slang, say experts.
RLY? Sez who? Sayeth the Principal of the New Zealand Writers' College:
"The language they are hearing is all jargon. There is a lot of slang and it's almost phonetically based and not spelling based." "So when they have to sit down and write something, it is completely alien to them."
So, what kind of expert is this Principal?
Nichola Meyer started her career as a freelance writer in 2001, and has written feature and cover articles for several leading magazines, among them O: The Oprah Magazine, Femina, Your Baby, Essentials and Child. With a university Major in English, Honours (magna cum laude) and a Masters Degree (cum laude) in Psychology, Nichola has a special interest in reporting on issues of interest to women and parents.
She has written for Oprah. She is that kind of expert. And what is her College all about?
Choose from over 30 writing courses tutored by professional, award-winning writers. Learn to write from the comfort of your home from anywhere in New Zealand. You will receive one-to-one support, guidance and mentoring from an expert in the field, every line of the way.
So it is a correspondence school, where you can pay to be tutored by professional, award-winning writers: who are these people? What do they want? They are mostly South African. The Copywriting course is tutored by one Mandy Speechly, who is Head of Copy at the AAA School of Advertising in Cape Town.  The novel writing course is tutored by one Sonny Whitelaw, whose oeuvre is in the novelisation of Sci-Fi TV series. The course tells you all you need to know, including – at the very end – a module on the lifestyle of the working writer (Protip: we go to lunch and complain about not having any work) and an assessment of your partly-completed novel; if you want to know how to finish it, you will have to go on the Advanced Novel Writing course. And oh look, there's Sarah Lang; she at least is well-known and local.

This college is virtual and unaccredited. It teaches adults how to write, in writing, so long as they part with large sums of money: the poetry course costs more than you will ever earn. The Principal has degrees in Eng Lit and Psych. She did some teaching, a while back. In what way is she an expert on children's writing abilities? Of course, if you keep reading, you will get to hear from a real expert,
Professor Judy Parr, head of the Auckland University School of Curriculum and Pedagogy; but that is way down the inverted pyramid, where there will be few readers still reading. So what happens in this story is that the opinion of someone who had no apparent expertise in this field is favoured over one of its leading experts. Of course, Ms Meyer's opinion is a commonplace – it is all because of the TXT MSSGNG. Professor Parr says something that all writers will know: in order to write, you have to read. And that means parents have to take responsibility for providing their children with books, rather than blaming Internet and schools.

But what of the stats? What of these national standards that so many children are failing? Well, it is funny you should ask, because the journalist who wrote this story – Vaimoana Tapaleao – also wrote this one:
Many people referred to the data as "ropey" - a reference to a word Prime Minister John Key used earlier this year when he described the national standards information as "ropey at best".
So there we have it: many people who know what they are talking about (and the Prime Minister) think these standards are (to use a technical term) tosh. They are not standards at all, because the data is not standard. So why do we have here a story about children failing, when the evidence for this failure is so  suspect? Because fear sells papers, that is why. It is easier to frighten people with the prospect of their children failing and the school system producing a nation of idiots than it is to do a properly-researched story about education.

Broadcast, singing about writing:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, Oprah.