Saturday, June 14, 2008


Three current articles from Australia below

Grammar guide for English teachers 'full of basic errors'

Amazing illiteracy. A "postmodernist" displays her utter ignorance of her subject. She tries to portray the points mader by Prof. Huddleston as peculiar to him but the reverse is the truth. What he says has been basic to English grammar for hundreds of years -- basic in fact to an undertstanding of any European language (with the possible excerption of Euskara). What hope is there for the kids when this twisted soul is teaching them? -- JR

A teachers' guide to grammar circulated by the English Teachers Association of Queensland is riddled with basic errors, leading an internationally respected linguistics professor to describe it as "the worst published material on English grammar" he has seen. A series of articles on grammar published in the ETAQ's journal intended as a teaching resource is striking for its confusion of the parts of speech, incorrectly labelling nouns as adjectives, verbs as adverbs and phrases as verbs.

University of Queensland emeritus professor Rodney Huddleston, one of the principal authors of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, said it took the association about one year to correct the errors, and even then it confined most of the corrections to its website rather than in the journal and did not republish the guide. "These articles contain a huge amount of error, inconsistency and confusion," he said. "They constitute, without question, the worst published material on English grammar by a native speaker that I have come across. "(The author) clearly does not know enough about English grammar in general to take on work of this kind. "Anyone who analyses 'won't' and 'capable of' as adverbs, 'a pair' and 'set of' as adjectives, or 'Sam's' as a possessive pronoun has no business to be preparing a resource on English grammar for teachers."

The articles, published with the general title Grammar at the Coalface, were prepared by Lenore Ferguson, the editor of the ETAQ journal Words'Worth and published over a series of months last year. Dr Ferguson printed three examples of the errors in the March edition, saying they were "the result of the usual mishaps with work that undergoes several drafts and is proofed and edited by the original writer".

Last night, she told The Australian the points Professor Huddleston identified were differences of opinion rather than mistakes. "They weren't all mistakes as he described but differences of opinion and that's the way of the world," she said. Dr Ferguson said Professor Huddleston did not follow traditional grammar but had invented his own type, called the Cambridge grammar, which was unique and had reclassified terms, such as calling prepositions conjunctions. "It's a totally different perspective and a totally different way of organising and thinking about language," she said.

Dr Ferguson is an education consultant, a former president of the association and has worked as a senior education officer for English in the Queensland Education Department. A CV included with a paper presented at a conference by Dr Ferguson says she has taught in primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and has a long history of involvement in curriculum development and professional development at state and national levels.

ETAQ president Garry Collins said the mistakes were "relatively minor" and the association had published an article on grammar by Professor Huddleston in the journal and alerted readers through a newsletter to his longer critiques published on the website. "Ideally the errors wouldn't have been there but these things occur in the best-regulated households," he said. "If coming upon these couple of minor inaccuracies caused teachers to be having conversations about grammar in staff rooms then I would see that as not a bad thing."

Mr Collins accused The Australian of reporting educational issues with a particular slant, representing minority views, and said highlighting the Words'Worth articles would hamper teachers' engagement with grammar. "It would be useful if the paper didn't seize on minority views but try to report in ways which are relevant to what really does happen in classrooms," he said.

Professor Huddleston provided The Australian with a list of 20 defects that summarised the errors in the ETAQ teachers' guide, which take 10 pages of explanation in his reply article on the ETAQ website. "A lot of them are very elementary," he said.

In Dr Ferguson's first article, The Structural Basics, published in March last year, she says "won't" in the sentence "The small boy won't eat his lunch" is an adverb when, in fact, it is a verb. "Sam's" in "Sam's folder" is classified as a possessive pronoun when it is the possessive form of a proper noun; "what" in "They saw what lay before them" was called a conjunction but it is a pronoun; and "a pair" is classified as an adjective instead of a noun group comprising a determiner "a" and a noun "pair". In the sentence, "The small boy is capable of eating his lunch", the term "capable of" is called an adverb when it is not a grammatical unit of any kind but an adjective followed by a preposition.

Similarly, in "a set of bowls", Dr Ferguson calls "set of" an adjective when it consists of the noun "set" and preposition "of". Syntactic constructions such as "have a peep" are classified as verbs, while "something" is classified as a pronoun and "everything" as a noun.

Professor Huddleston said he believed teachers would be discouraged from reading his corrections because it was described in the journal as being "complex, requiring readers to have extensive knowledge of traditional, structural and functional grammars". It also repeatedly refers to traditional grammar as "his grammar".


Class-hatred invades English grammar

The debacle surrounding the resources developed by the English Teachers Association of Queensland, designed to "help teachers to defend and explain the place of grammar in the school curriculum and in our classrooms", underscores our dumbed-down education system. In the words of Rodney Huddleston, a retired professor in linguistics, the material contains "a huge amount of error, inconsistency and confusion. They (two of the resources) constitute, without question, the worst published material on English grammar by a native speaker that I have ever come across." The errors Huddleston uncovers include confusing adverbs with verbs, adverbs with adjectives and conjunctions with pronouns.

That the material is flawed is partly because of the priority given to a functional linguistics approach to grammar. Functional grammar, similar to critical literacy, is imbued with the view that language has to be analysed in terms of power relationships. Students have to be taught how standard English is used by more powerful groups in society to oppress others. With functional grammar, children are no longer taught things such as parts of speech or how to parse a sentence; instead, the focus is on so-called real meaning and real contexts where language is defined as a socio-cultural construct.

Nouns become participants, verbs are described as process and adverbial clauses and phrases are changed to circumstances. Such is the dense and arcane terminology associated with functional grammar that former NSW premier Bob Carr had it banished from the curriculum. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford boasted last year in relation to the new English syllabus: "Curriculum waffle is out, clear English is in." It's a pity, however, that he didn't follow Carr's example.

The in-service training for English teachers organised by Education Queensland, while mentioning traditional grammar, gives priority to a functional linguistics approach. In notes titled Getting a Grip on Grammar, verbs, clauses, phrases, nouns, subject and predicate are secondary to descriptions such as processes, participants, circumstances, mood, modality, cohesion and theme. The result? Not only are teachers bamboozled but parents are unable to help with their children's work.

Many of those responsible for training English teachers and writing syllabuses are committed to a progressive, cultural-left approach to English as a subject, represented by functional grammar and critical literacy. As a consequence, not only do most Australian syllabuses fail to include a systematic treatment of formal grammar but many teachers lack the knowledge to deal with thesubject.

No wonder thousands of primary school children start secondary school illiterate, many Year 12 students enter university incapable of writing a lucid essay and employers complain about the language skills ofworkers. In The Literacy Wars, Monash University academic Ilana Snyder condemns me and The Australian for promoting a "manufactured crisis" in English teaching. One wonders what she will make of the latest incident.


Silencing grammar

A mocking editorial from The Australian below:

The precision of our language must be preserved. The "arguability of a text", the English Teachers Association of Queensland told its members in its journal last year, "can vary according to the degree to which the speaker/writer closes down the dialogue to suppress or limit divergence, or opens it up to divergent positions."

Regardless of whatever discourses are foregrounded, marginalised or silenced, however, it cannot be argued, after a dominant or resistant reading of any text, that an adverb is a verb. And while not wanting to privilege traditional grammar rules over a sociocultural critical appraisal model, no amount of licence can turn a pair into an adjective instead of a noun.

Such elementary mistakes, unfortunately, are among the string of errors in articles published in the ETAQ journal last year. Written by consultant Lenore Ferguson, "Grammar at the coal-face" was presented to help when "colleagues, parents, employers and politicians ... accuse us of not knowing or teaching grammar."

Retired University of Queensland professor Rodney Huddleston, one of two principal authors of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, said it was the worst material on English grammar by a native speaker he had seen. He identified "a huge amount of error, inconsistency and confusion". "Set of" in "a set of bowls" was classified wrongly as an adjective, instead of a noun and preposition. The word "what" in "They saw what lay before them" was described as a conjunction. And "Sam's", in "Sam's folder", was labelled a possessive pronoun instead of a possessive noun.

ETAQ president, Garry Collins, is unconcerned about such "relatively minor" mistakes, and derides The Australian for reporting the matter. However, parents - tired of school handouts dotted with bad spelling and confusing "there" and "their" - will take a more serious view. They and their children will not be surprised at the erudition of some of the learning activities proposed in the articles. These suggest that students identify nouns and verbs by analysing newspaper previews for Home and Away and Neighbours. Pathetic.

Regrettably, what is "silenced" in the ETAQ material is the lifelong importance, for their wellbeing and career advancement, of students from all backgrounds learning to write and speak correctly. Preserving the precision of our language is important, regardless of the ravages of texting, slang and even critical literacy jargon. While language evolves, it needs to do so within acceptable parameters of semantics and rules. "Alternative readings" of what is acceptable risk English degenerating into woolly and imprecise meaninglessness.

If the ETAQ magazine reflects grammar and English teaching generally in Queensland, the state's Education Minister, Rod Welford, should instigate remedial classes - for teachers. Suitable instructors, however, might prove thin on the ground. The ETAQ journal, Words'Worth, would be the last place he should advertise.


Islam in America's Public Schools: Education or Indoctrination?

by Cinnamon Stillwell

With fatal terrorist attacks on the decline worldwide and al Qaeda apparently in disarray, it would seem a time for optimism in the global war on terrorism. But the war has simply shifted to a different arena. Islamists, or those who believe that Islam is a political and religious system that must dominate all others, are focusing less on the military and more on the ideological. It turns out that Western liberal democracies can be subverted without firing a shot.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the educational realm. Islamists have taken what's come to be known as the "soft jihad" into America's classrooms and children in K-12 are the first casualties. Whether it is textbooks, curriculum, classroom exercises, film screenings, speakers or teacher training, public education in America is under assault.

Capitalizing on the post-9/11 demand for Arabic instruction, some public, charter and voucher-funded private schools are inappropriately using taxpayer dollars to implement a religious curriculum. They are also bringing in outside speakers with Islamist ties or sympathies. As a result, not only are children receiving a biased education, but possible violations of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause abound. Consider the following cases:

* Last month, students at Friendswood Junior High in Houston were required to attend an "Islamic Awareness" presentation during class time allotted for physical education. The presentation involved two representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization with a record of Islamist statements and terrorism convictions. According to students, they were taught that "there is one God, his name is Allah" and that "Adam, Noah and Jesus are prophets." Students were also taught about the Five Pillars of Islam and how to pray five times a day and wear Islamic religious garb. Parents were not notified about the presentation and it wasn't until a number of complaints arose that school officials responded with an apologetic e-mail.

* Earlier this year at Lake Brantley High School in Seminole County, Fla., speakers from the Academy for Learning Islam gave a presentation to students about "cultural diversity" that extended to a detailed discussion of the Quran and Islam. The school neither screened the ALI speakers nor notified parents. After a number of complaints, local media coverage and a subsequent investigation, the school district apologized for the inappropriate presentation, admitting that it violated the law. Subsequently, ALI was removed from the Seminole County school system's Dividends and Speaker's Bureau.

* As reported by the Cabinet Press, a school project last year at Amherst Middle School transformed "the quaint colonial town of Amherst, N.H., into a Saudi Arabian Bedouin tent community." Male and female students were segregated, with the girls hosting "hijab and veil stations" and handing out the oppressive head-to-toe black garment known as the abaya to female guests. Meanwhile, the boys hosted food and Arabic dancing stations because, as explained in the article, "the traditions of Saudi Arabia at this time prevent women from participating in these public roles." An "Islamic religion station" offered up a prayer rug, verses from the Quran, prayer items and a compass pointed towards Mecca. The fact that female subjugation was presented as a benign cultural practice and Islamic religious rituals were promoted with public funds is cause for concern.

* Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a charter school in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., came under recent scrutiny after Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten brought to light concerns about public funding for its overtly religious curriculum. The school is housed in the Muslim American Society's (the American branch of the Egyptian Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood) Minnesota building, alongside a mosque, and the daily routine includes prayer, ritual washing, halal food preparation and an after-school "Islamic studies" program. Kersten's columns prompted the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to issue a press release expressing its own reservations about potential First Amendment violations. An investigation initiated by the Minnesota Department of Education verified several of Kersten's allegations and the school has since promised to make the appropriate changes. In a bizarre twist, when a local television news crew tried to report on the findings from school grounds, school officials confronted them and wrestled a camera away from one of its photographers, injuring him in the process.

* The controversy surrounding the founding of New York City's Arabic language public school, Khalil Gibran International Academy, last year continues. Former principal Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser was asked to step down after publicly defending T-shirts produced by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, an organization with whom she shared office space, emblazoned with "Intifada NYC." But KGIA has other troublesome associations. Its advisory board includes three imams, one of whom, New York University Imam Khalid Latif, sent a threatening letter to the university's president regarding a planned display of the Danish cartoons. Another, Shamsi Ali, runs the Jamaica Muslim Center Quranic Memorization School in Queens, a replica of the type of Pakistani madrassa (or school) counter-terrorism officials have been warning about since 9/11. Accordingly, several parents founded Stop the Madrassa: A Community Coalition to voice their contention that KGIA is an inappropriate candidate for taxpayer funding.

Equally problematic are the textbooks used in American public schools to teach Islam or Islamic history. Organizations such as Southern California's Council on Islamic Education and Arabic World and Islamic Resources are tasked with screening and editing these textbooks for public school districts, but questions have been raised about the groups' scholarship and ideological agenda. The American Textbook Council, an organization that reviews history and social studies textbooks used in American schools, and its director, Gilbert T. Sewall, have produced a series of articles and reports on Islam textbooks and the findings are damning. They include textbooks that are factually inaccurate, misrepresent and in some cases, glorify Islam, or are hostile to other religions. While teaching students about Islam within a religious studies context may be appropriate, the purpose becomes suspect when the texts involved are compromised in this manner.

Such are the complaints about "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond," a textbook published by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute, to the point where parents in the Scottsdale, Ariz., school district succeeded in having it removed from the curriculum in 2005. TCI is based in Mountain View, and the textbook is now being used in the state's public schools, where similar concerns have arisen. A Marin County mother whose son has been assigned "History Alive!" has been trying to mount an effort to call school officials' attention to the problem. Similarly, a San Luis Obispo mother filed an official complaint several years ago with her son's school authorities over the use of Houghton Mifflin's middle school text, "Across the Centuries," which has been widely criticized for whitewashing Islamic history and glorifying Islam. Its recent approval for use in Montgomery County, Md., public schools is likely to lead to further objections.

But the forces in opposition are powerful and plenty. They include public education bureaucrats and teachers mired in naivete and political correctness, biased textbook publishers, politicized professors and other experts tasked with helping states approve textbooks, and at the top of the heap, billions of dollars in Saudi funding. These funds are pouring into the coffers of various organs that design K-12 curricula. The resultant material, not coincidentally, turns out to be inaccurate, biased and, considering the Wahhabist strain of Islam promulgated by Saudi Arabia, dangerous. And again, taxpayer dollars are involved. National Review Online contributing editor Stanley Kurtz explains :
"The United States government gives money - and a federal seal of approval - to a university Middle East Studies center. That center offers a government-approved K-12 Middle East studies curriculum to America's teachers. But in fact, that curriculum has been bought and paid for by the Saudis, who may even have trained the personnel who operate the university's outreach program. Meanwhile, the American government is asleep at the wheel - paying scant attention to how its federally mandated public outreach programs actually work. So without ever realizing it, America's taxpayers end up subsidizing - and providing official federal approval for - K-12 educational materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices. Game, set, match: Saudis."

Along with funding textbooks and curricula, the Saudis are also involved in funding and designing training for public school teachers. The Saudi funded Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University now offers professional development workshops for K-12 teachers. The workshops take place at the hosting institution and provide teachers with classroom material. They are free of charge and ACMCU throws in lunch to boot.

But this generosity likely comes with a catch, for the center is known for producing scholars and material with a decidedly apologist bent, both toward the Saudi Royal Family and Islamic radicalism. It's no accident that ACMCU education consultant Susan Douglass, according to her bio, has been "an affiliated scholar" with the Council on Islamic Education "for over a decade." Douglass also taught social studies at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Va., where her husband still teaches. ISA has come under investigation for Saudi-provided textbooks and curriculum that some have alleged promotes hatred and intolerance towards non-Muslims. That someone with Douglass' problematic associations would be in charge of training public school teachers hardly inspires confidence in the system.

While groups such as People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU express outrage at any semblance of Christianity in America's public schools, very little clamor has met the emergence of Islam in the same arena. An occasional press release, such as the one put out by the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU regarding TIZA, will surface, but by and large, the arbiters of separation of church and state or in this case, mosque and state, have gone silent. The same can largely be said for the federal government and, in particular, the State Department. No doubt, Saudi dollars and influence are part of the problem.

Probably the single greatest weapon in the arsenal of those trying to fight the misuse of America's public schools is community involvement. As noted previously, a number of parental coalitions have sprung up across the country in an effort to protect their own children from indoctrination. The Stop the Madrassa Coalition has expanded its efforts beyond New York City by working on policy ideas for legislation and meeting privately with members of Congress. Also providing hope are Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), whose 10-point "Wake Up America" agenda includes a call to reform Saudi-provided textbooks, and the bipartisan Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus she co-chairs. Its focus on "jihadist ideology" demonstrates an all-too-rare governmental understanding of the nature of the current conflict.

The power to educate the next generation is an inestimable one and a free society cedes control at its peril. The days of the "silent majority" are no longer tenable in the face of a determined and clever enemy. The battle of ideas must be joined.


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