Thursday, September 28, 2006

PM defends the Brethren

The Brethren have rightly identified and publicized the Green Party as anti-Christian far-Leftists and the Greens hate them for it

The beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren Christian sect, which includes a refusal to vote, should be respected, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The sect has been criticised, particularly by the Greens, in recent times for its alleged activities in elections but Mr Howard says he has seen more fanatical groups in his time.

"The Exclusive Brethren as an organisation within the law, a Christian sect, is entitled to put its view," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. "I did make the observation that I've met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren. "They have a different, a more disciplined, perhaps some would say a more narrow interpretation of the Christian religion than others, but I respect their right to have (this interpretation)."

Mr Howard, who yesterday said he had met with the group, said the more unorthodox views of the sect, such as not voting, did not means its members should be vilified. "I have to say that strikes me as what you might call an unorthodox Christian ... it strikes me as a little unusual, but that is their right and it should be respected," he said. "It shouldn't be the subject of some vilification campaign against them."


Obese suffer 'discrimination, depression'

And constant government condemnation of them does not exactly help. Why are fatties the only ones you are allowed to condemn these days? What about Muslims? Let us hear more governments condemning them. They certainly do more harm to others than fatties do

Depression, discrimination and humiliation, not just excess weight, are burdens for people who are obese, a Melbourne professor said today. Monash University Professor Paul Komesaroff is leading a study into the emotional burdens of being overweight. He said the physical risks of obesity were well known, but little had been done on how overweight people felt about themselves and society's attitudes to them. "Overweight people are often reviled and humiliated their whole lives," Professor Komesaroff said. "Public debates and comments often don't help ... they project an image of overweight people as lazy, fat slobs who, if they used some willpower, would not be overweight," he said. "The reality is that obese people often battle with weight their entire lives."

Professor Komesaroff said that overweight people often suffered depression. He said the study would also examine the nature of the relationships that developed between people living with obesity and their health professionals. The outcomes of the study would be used to develop new public health and clinical strategies to combat depression in obese people.

Researcher Dr Samantha Thomas said the study would initially involve interviewing 100 Victorians who were overweight, but may eventually be expanded nationally. "This research will give them the opportunity to tell their stories about what it is like to be overweight in Australia today," Dr Thomas said. Bellberry Ltd, a not-for-profit human research ethics company, has contributed $40,000 to the research.


Political correctness harms abused black kids

Welfare workers are too frightened to take neglected and sexually abused indigenous children into care, carers have said. The Northern Territory News was last night told by people who work with children that NT Family and Community Services feared being accused of creating a new "stolen generation". "Black kids have to be suffering 10 times more than white kids before being taken away from their no-good parents," a source said.

Community Services Minister Delia Lawrie denied the allegation. "We don't take Stolen Generation concerns into account," she said. "And whether a child is indigenous or not doesn't come into play." [Believe that if you want to!] She said the number of Aboriginal Territory children taken into care had doubled in the past few years.

Elliott, a community on the Stuart Highway, 415km south of Katherine, was held up by concerned welfare sources as an illustration of the problem. The sources said several children in the township were believed to have been sexually abused. One girl had told nurses she had been molested by a man who still lives in the community. The girl has developed behavioural problems, nurses claimed. Many community children are also undernourished and are being fed by the school and health clinic.

The Tennant Creek FACS office has been given several notifications of suspected sexual abuse and neglect. Sources said children were being put at even greater risk by the department refusing to remove them quickly enough from bad homes. "The situation has to be extreme before FACS will step in," said the source, adding the problem had been created by the "stolen generation", the alleged removal of part-Aboriginal children from their parents last century.

Ms Lawrie said only a court could order a child being taken into care permanently.


The decline of grammar

Lynne Truss is a professional pedant. Her 2003 book Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation sold 3 million copies worldwide. Truss has now followed up with a picture book for kids: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why commas really do make a difference. But should such a book be necessary at all?

Truss is avowedly fed up with poor teaching - or non-teaching - of punctuation, grammar and spelling in English schools. Her message is as relevant here as it is in Britain. Grammar and punctuation need to be taught well. It cannot be absorbed through the act of reading alone. Truss, in an interview in July with The Times Education Supplement, pithily summed up her frustration: "It's similar to music. You don't just pick up how to play the piano. I feel kids are being let down. In a communications age, knowing how to write is a life skill."

Formal grammar is not a usual part of most English courses in Queensland schools. This has been the case since the 1970s when it went out of fashion and creativity at all costs was the preferred approach. The results have been ruinous. Although it is encouraging that Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford indicated in March that state schools would put increased emphasis on reading, grammar and spelling from prep to Year 9, this will take time.

The problem lies with the way teachers are prepared. In one sense, teachers who have gone through training courses since the 1970s are not to blame. They have not been taught grammar during their school days or in teacher training institutions. They enter the classroom not knowing any. It is, however, their unavoidable responsibility to learn how to teach the structure of language.

The consequences of virtually no grammar instruction for three decades are plain to see. In September 2005, a study of 660 Defence Force Academy students - who had achieved a tertiary entrance rank of 80 per cent or better to gain admission - found that students presented with a poor level of expressive technical accuracy. ADFA associate dean of education Stephen Yeomans noted at the time: "What I particularly notice is improper sentence construction, inappropriate or no punctuation, lack of conjunctives, misuse of apostrophes, poor spelling and so on."

In February, 124 businesses polled by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers highlighted poor communication skills in prospective employees. The lack of grammar featured strongly. "The focus is now on the instantaneous. It's all about speed, it's quick responses and short messages and abbreviations and shortcuts. That's leading to people not knowing how to spell a long word, or writing in text message-speak rather than traditional, grammatically correct English," president Bill Reeves observed.

This is mirrored in Queensland. In May, Commerce Queensland president Beatrice Booth drew attention to employer dissatisfaction with the quality of young employees' English skills. "There are no remedial programs for young people at that age, yet we have a plethora of young people who can't spell, comprehend what they're reading or write a proper sentence," Ms Booth said.

Identifying the problem is relatively easy. There is enough research showing that spelling, grammar and punctuation are in decline in Australian children. To attempt to stem this, Premier Peter Beattie recently announced that children who struggled with English skills would be given up to 15 hours, at a cost of $1000 each, of one-on-one instruction. The students concerned are in the bottom 10 per cent of Year 5 and 7 - about 11,200 children.

In February, the Productivity Commission's report into government services found that one in five Queensland Year 5 students was not a competent reader. Knowing about the extent of poor language skills is one thing, knowing how to successfully manage it is more problematical. One thing is clear. Grammar teaching has to undergo a major rethink. Any student who learns a language other than English learns grammar so why is English any different? Because grammar is not a central part of English teaching in a majority of classrooms, children who are not taught it are being disenfranchised in their communicative skills.

Then there is the quality of the graduates who want to become English teachers. This is not uniformly high. The uncomfortable reality is that there are English teachers who are poor spellers, know little grammar and are unclear about punctuation. How can the incompetent teach children well? How did they get there in the first place? Some teachers who are going to enter Queensland classrooms in the next four years are being drawn from the lowest bands of OP scores. Universities are accepting students to become teachers with OP scores as low as 19. When it is remembered that the OP score bottoms at 25, this is cause for concern. The reality is that there is a significant proportion of English teachers who were low-achieving students in the subjects they are now expected to teach.

There is a solution. English teachers without grammar knowledge need to undergo rigorous professional development. This could take place within schools and be led by teachers who are confident in grammar. Experienced English teachers with expertise in technical elements of expression could be redeployed as in-house grammar mentors. It would be their responsibility to pass or fail their colleagues and offer additional support. Teachers nearing retirement could meet this need. This depends on the assumption that grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence construction still matter. It is clear that for too long grammar has lost its glamour and many children do not know how their own language works. It is, clearly, low-skilled English teaching that is failing them


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