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Nurturing the Essentials

Children's reading, writing and speaking skills
Dr. Barry Spurr, Department of English, University of Sydney
Delivered at Christian Home Education Convention, Toongabbie Nov 3 2001.

Summary by J Angelico 27 Nov 2001 used by permission. Download the full text: Nurture.ZIP, 14k

Effective use of our language, both written and spoken, is of supreme importance, and the teaching of language skills is an essential element of our children's education. Australia is failing our children and society, in this matter, on the scale of a national scandal which is only worsening. The survey 'Young Australians Reading' reports disturbing findings backed by damning evidence which reinforces the informal evidence available from my 25 years of experience teaching in the field.

As a result of the research findings, I would offer the following recommendations for repairing the damage, particularly by encouraging reading. These include:

To this I would add memorising and reading poetry aloud, and the need for serious study of the classical foundations of the English language with particular emphasis on the Bible as literature. Lastly, parents would be wise to ensure that their children read broadly, across various styles and genres of literature.

Parents are now being called upon to monitor their children's written English because many teachers are no longer able to do so. This occurs for two reasons: some teachers are subliterate themselves and most avoid rigorous correction of errors in student work. The underlying reasons are only now being recognised, but attempts to address them are barely making headway due to the parlous state of the teaching profession. A necessary revolution must be led by parents to restore the image of the teaching profession, as well as English language studies in particular.

Finally, oral skills require attention since we have reached the preposterous state where job advertisements must explicitly specify the need for effective verbal communication skills. Children are speaking badly because they are being poorly trained in how language works and how to use it effectively. Once the opportunity to develop these skills has been lost, they face a lifetime of being inarticulate, and consequently disempowered in public debate, discussion and on social occasions. Deplorable ideas of genuine Australian-ness, spurred on by a false egalitarianism and the 'tall poppy' syndrome have constrained men in particular to a vocabulary of inarticulate grunts and obscenities.

Oral skills need to be nurtured. The difficulties of poor speech faced by young people are often due to inexperience, so parents are best placed to point out examples of good and bad speech, offering constructive criticism and commendation. They can inculcate positive attitudes to excellent speech, both by instruction and by their own behaviour, and steer their children away from boorish profanities, lazy mumbling and inflammatory invective.

Careless use of language is the tell-tale sign of careless thought and as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley showed us, where attentiveness to language and its use grow slack, the people are ready for tyranny.

Download the full text: Nurture.ZIP, 14k

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