Tuesday, March 02, 2010

National Curriculum and Literacy

Here in Australia we are embroiled in politics over the implementation of a national curriculum for schools. Great idea in theory, generates more heat than light in any attempt at implementation. One of the objectives of the process is to ensure consistent standards of literacy. See previous sentence.
Our Prime Minister, who loves to be photographed with school kids, informed us that he was distressed that a small child he was attempting to commune with did not apparently associate the sounding out of "der o guh" with the written word dog. Therefore all children should be drilled in phonics. Apart from apparently being unaware that a very small child may merely have been a tad overawed by an assertive man in a suit making strange noises at him, it is a little alarming that politicians, who have plenty of other things to do such as making sure that our economy doesn't go down the gurgler, should feel that by such a trivial observation they can set themselves up as experts on the teaching of literacy.
I have just been reading an article by that eminent paleographer Malcolm Parkes ("Which Came First, Reading or Writing?" in Parkes, M. 2008 Their Hands Before Our Eyes Ashgate) in which he discusses the increasing legibility of writing with the introduction of Caroline minuscule. The abandonment of ligatures and the clearly differentiated individual letters meant that the letters of the alphabet became the basic unit of reading, rather than peculiar graphic signs representing whole words. In the terms of the modern debate about literacy, the writers of Caroline minuscule in the 9th century changed from word recognition to phonics. It helped that Latin was a phonetic language, which English isn't.
As the world gradually became more literate, and the methods and purposes of reading and writing changed, the association of script styles and page layout with modes of reading becomes a set of clues to the processes which the brain uses to decode the written word. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get some experts on the history of literacy and writing to engage in the debate on the teaching of literacy in the modern world, rather than relying on simple minded populist politicians' tricks to design the way we educate our kids? Hey, what was that big pink thing going "oink" that just flew past my window.


Anonymous said...

Your Prime Minister knows it as a Puh uh Guh...

Dianne said...

Surely it's Puh Ih Guh. He's not a Kiwi.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, it's been some years since I was au fait with this branch of phonemics :-)