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Some changes are not fit for purpose - 4 October 2022


Philip Whearty gave us his Viewpoint tonight.

Obviously I’m not an English major and have long forgotten any Euclidean Geometry and significance of even the most basic trig mnemonics such as sohcahtoa.

In truth, the bulk of what I've written over the last 35 years was bullet points, 3 bedrooms, low maintenance, brick and tile, superbly presented, genuine vendor. 

Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”.

I was reminded of this recently when it was reported that our school leavers' literacy and numeracy ratings have plummeted over the last 20 years, relative to longstanding international benchmarks.

Anecdotally, as old people, and not without a dollop of smugness, we all knew this and didn’t need a PhD in linguistics or a research grant to figure it out.

In the case of numeracy a visit to the supermarket checkout does the trick. 

It may be a supermarket ploy by default to herd us towards the automated teller contraptions, which I detest on principle as well as for the fact that they seldom accommodate cash; not to mention the Briscoes-like voice crooning robotic instructions and gratitude, a bit like, "mind the gap". 

Funnily enough, I don’t mind waiting at the Lotto counter because I look upon my tolerance as a kind of moral virtue, a biblical penance to amend my sin of gambling that offends God, and now also the mainstream banking system if your addiction is discovered whilst making a mortgage application.

There is also a chance for me that during the wait there may be someone in a Four Square in Twizel who is buying the penultimate random number sequence before my winning Hot Pick combination is generated at the Whitby outlet. 

I was in Standard 5 or 6 when I brought home the principal's note inviting parents to an evening session explaining, 'New Maths'.

My father refused to go on the basis that it was nonsense. "Maths is Maths", he said from behind the Ashburton Guardian and a plume of smoke from numerous puffs from the depleted packet of Capstan 10. So Mum and I went. 

I could tell early on that Mum was struggling to hold rank when introduced to the concept of the Venn Diagram method to determine what numbers were common to both columns, because the answer was blatantly obvious to everyone in the room, including the 4-year-old accompanying her Chinese, porcelain-skinned parents, long before the overlapping circles had taken shape. 

I recall wondering if the Chinese parents knew more Maths than my father, or English for that matter. 

Dad was right on at least one count, it was hardly new Maths, having been popularised in the 1880s by John Venn as part of teaching basic set theory.

Reading ability is another matter.

It is uniquely human. 

Its demise is insidious. 

If you ever feel the need to be reinvigorated about the beauty of language, take a minute, 45 actually, to listen to Stephen Fry’s 2022 Babel lecture. 

“I hope, Cecily, I shall not offend you if I state quite frankly and openly that you seem to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection“.

His analogy of the richness of the English language compared to the architecture of London is a cleverly simple gem. 

It is mysterious to me that reading strategies proven to work across generations would be tossed out in favour of a pictionary system of word guessing (the so called 3-cueing idea) based on such flimsy evidence that it was cognitively superior. 
Yet it infiltrated mainstream teaching circles, and phonics and rote learning, by way of repetition, took on a Corpse Lily stench. 

Luckily for those responsible, as so often happens in complex matters and what Jordan Peterson brilliantly contends in the Cathy Newman gender pay gap interview, is that there are multiple causes.

Within our context this points to the educationalists now hiding, camouflaged in plain sight, behind truancy, cultural, ethnic, social and digital influences, inter alia.

Like the weather-tightness dilemma that pitches Councils, architects, builders, plasterers, painters, the home owners themselves, and a bloated legal process against each other.

In fact blames everyone except the manufacturer of the miracle, low maintenance, easily fixed, fire resistant, rot resistant and moisture damage resistant wallboard, making it impossible to hold anyone to account.

My viewpoint is that it is unnecessary to await the research to prove what everyone already knows - that some changes are not fit for purpose, and someone should occasionally look at the results. 

Some changes are not fit for purpose - 4 October 2022

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