SOLO-NZ Op-Ed (Lindsay Perigo): The Dunce-ification of Everythink

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2012-06-25 03:32

The Dunce-ification of Everythink

Lindsay Perigo
June 25, 2012

A shock-horror headline emblazoned on the front page of The Dominion Post's June 23-24 weekend edition asked, “Are we raising a nation of dunces?”

“Some kids are starting school unable to name a colour or even string a sentence together,” the article began, as though this were news. It isn't.

It's also not news that some kids still can't string a sentence together when they leave school.

An article in the Sunday Star-Times of June 25 then reported, “Hopes of an economic boom driven by a highly-skilled Kiwi workforce could be dashed by the number of illiterate and innumerate adults. One in five students is leaving school without qualifications. Some struggle so badly they cannot fill out the unemployment benefit form.”

Plus ça change.

In 1996, the Adult Literacy in New Zealand survey of adults aged 16-65 found 66% of Maori and 41% of non-Maori were below the minimum level of literacy required to “meet the complex demands of everyday life and work.”

A 2006 survey's results were no better: it found 43 per cent of adults with some sort of literacy issue, and half the population with numeracy difficulties.

Here's the Dominion Post of February 15, 2011:

“Some teachers are so lacking in literacy and numeracy skills that they cannot write adequate reports or do primary-level maths, secondary principals say. … Anecdotal evidence from principals included teachers being unable to write reports, having poor reading comprehension, making basic punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, and being unable to help pupils’ reading.”

The country is now caught up in a vicious circle arising from decades of state-mandated dumbing down in the education system. This process has been faithfully replicated on state (and now private) television—as I've written in my article, The Rice for the Putts, linguistic cretins are being hired for on-air jobs not just in spite of being unable to speak but because they're unable to speak.

Masterton Primary School principal Sue Walters says, "We get a lot of kids who come to school who just can't form proper sentences. They have very limited vocabulary and some are operating at a 3-year-old's level. You can't teach kids to read and write if they can't speak." Well, TV reporters in their 20s are speaking like 5-year-olds—with the active connivance of their bosses!

Massey University senior lecturer in speech and language therapy Elizabeth Doell says at the age of 5, a child should be able to construct a reasonably complex sentence, and have a certain level of vocabulary. But this is often not the case, she observes, and an urgent inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of the problem. "I don't think we truly know the extent of it."

Here's the bottom of the problem: the deliberate inculcation of mediocrity by the state over generations, manifest in the Look-Say method of the teaching of reading and an egalitarian hostility to speech standards rooted in the belief that polished, clear speech is unacceptably “posh.” The resultant oral and written ineptitude have fed upon and reinforced each other.

Given this part of a letter I received last year from then-Education Minister Anne Tolley, I'm not hopeful of an imminent reversal of the current collapse into cretinism:

Although there may be variation from school to school in the approaches they take to the teaching of reading, the majority of New Zealand schools follow the Ministry of Education guidance outlined in the key reference texts Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 and Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5 to 8. In these publications teachers are urged to use a range of instructional strategies as they help students engage with meaningful texts. Such a balanced programme would include some phonics work, some use of known words and many other ways for readers to unlock and make sense of texts. [Translation: Look-Say and politically correct BS rule.]

I am interested in your observations about the speech of some of our young people. As you will know, language use, including oral language is not static. Our parents may well have mourned the decline they perceived in our speech patterns and pronunciation. In this age of technology, young people now hear a wide range of spoken language. Sometimes they may even deliberately use patterns different from those of their parents as a mark of their identity and individuality. Such is the nature of fluid and flexible language use as we all strive to make ourselves understood in the global world of today. [Translation: kids indeed speak as though they were morons. That's the way we want it: everyone sounding equally uneducated. For good Orwellian measure we'll call it “identity” and “individuality” precisely because it's the opposite of those things.]

Normally I'd advocate simply retrieving the thing from the clutches of the state and letting market forces generate a drive for remedial excellence. But all of society is now so steeped in barbarism that the private sector too is zombified. The state must act urgently to stop and reverse the rot it started and sponsored to such devastating effect. Hand in hand with the overdue revival of grammar, spelling and punctuation that is already supposed to be happening, the state must restore to phonics its former hegemony, and it must introduce speech-training into the curriculum, both for pupils and teachers.

What stake do I as a libertarian have in this matter? To quote Ms Walters again, “You can't teach kids to read and write if they can't speak.” And in a nation of inarticulate illiterates, liberty doesn't stand a chance. In the domain of dunces, demagogues dictate.

Lindsay Perigo:

SOLO (sense of Life Objectivists):


Bob Jones plagiarises Perigo?

gregster's picture

"Too frequently bad English is excused by claims of it constantly evolving. For example, almost 70 per cent of current English was unheard of 60 years ago. However, this evolvement process has nothing to do with its mis-use. Consider our Prime Minister, plainly a decent and sensible fellow but he does no service to the nation with his easily fixed, extraordinary mauling of English. His junior Cabinet minister Simon Bridges, introduced himself to me at a parliamentary Press Gallery Christmas party a year ago.

"Why have you declared war on English?" I asked him.

"Everyone says that to me," he laughed.

I told him to call me, claiming I could cure him in a single session. That would have required hammering him to come down hard on his consonants. He said he would but didn't and remains a laughing stock every time he speaks."

Mangled language is now the norm

Excellent article...

Marcus's picture

...published on an excellent website!

Reproduced ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I'm sorry Linz...

Marcus's picture

...I see UKTV belongs to the BBC and is obviously run by cretins in Australia.

Blame Tony Blair and new labour who believed all things in the UK had to be dumbed down.

A new BBC Director-General has been announced. Here's hoping.

Niall Ferguson's Reith lecture...

Marcus's picture

....on civil and uncivil society is well worth a listen. If nothing for the hostile audience in his native Scotland during the question and answer session.

He's made some good TV documentaries on the ascent of Money and the decline of western civilisation.

He's no Libertarian, more a pro-market liberal with ties to the UK conservative party.

Niall Ferguson Reith Lectures

Dunce-ifying Dregs

Lindsay Perigo's picture

In desperation I sent a complaint to UKTV about the cretins ho do the voice-overs for their programme trailers. Here's the exchange thus far, in reverse order:

They are not to *anyone's* taste as far as I can ascertain. You've seemingly gone out of your way to select the dumbest-sounding ugliest-voiced bimbos you can drag in off the street. Hearing the voice-overs on "BayBaySay Knowludge" on that channel of all places is beyond galling. "BBC" used to be synonymous with quality, standards and professionalism. Now, prompted no doubt by some tragically misguided political correctness, it's synonymous with sub-mediocrity and amateurishness. Shame on you!

On 16 July 2012 11:46, WW Feedback NZ wrote:
Dear Lindsay,

Thank you for your email.

The voice overs for UKTV promos are selected by our creative department after auditioning a large number of voice artists. I’m sorry to hear you find them not to your taste.

Kind Regards,


From: BBC Australia []
Sent: Thursday, 12 July 2012 12:47 PM
To: WW Feedback NZ
Subject: UKTV New Zealand: Complaint

UKTV New Zealand: Complaint
Who selects the voices to do voice-overs for programme trailers in New Zealand? They're a travesty of broadcasting standards.

'Witchfinder general' of America's classrooms

Marcus's picture

A ray of hope?

Michelle Rhee: 'Witchfinder general' of America's classrooms flies in to give Gove her gospel

Richard Garner meets the woman who lives to sack teachers.

"Michael Gove yesterday endorsed the policies of an American education expert who advocates sacking large numbers of incompetent teachers.

Michelle Rhee has earned a reputation as a "witchfinder general of the classroom" in the US, identifying under-performing teachers and forcing them out of the profession.

She also advocates dramatic pay rises for talented teachers who help pupils obtain good grades.

This week she flew into Britain to pass on her experience to ministers and education officials – and the Education Secretary indicated that her hard-nosed policies could well be adopted here.

"Michelle points out in everything she does that what they [children] need is the most effective teacher who demands the highest standards and is relentless about that," Mr Gove said...

She is full of praise for the thrust of Mr Gove's education reforms. "I can see the country seems on the right tracks in terms of the reviews you have," she said.

She believes, though, that England has similar problems to the ones she inherited in Washington.

"I think there has been little more than a handful of teachers dismissed for performance reasons in the past few years," she said.

"In the United States, it has been very, very similar – in other professions like the law and medicine it has been much easier to dismiss through incompetence."

Her plans for forcing out poor teachers and regular classroom inspections would incur the wrath of British teaching unions. But, having faced down similar opposition in the US, Ms Rhee is bullish.

"People said we were crazy when we set out on our policies in Washington DC," she said. "Now half the states are looking at new measures for assessing their teachers."

What You Got to Use All Them Big Words For?

Luke Setzer's picture

I was asked this question persistently when trying to talk to my peers in public elementary school. It was a frustrating experience. That was in the 1970s. Obviously the problem has worsened. Compulsory egalitarian education makes everyone less educated.

If the state doesn't regulate

Richard Wiig's picture

If the state doesn't regulate it first, Reed.

Internet education (when it

reed's picture

Internet education (when it matures) will make state schools redundant.


Damien Grant's picture

The comment about teachers is depressing.

I am surprised that a voucher system does not gain traction. Given that most new zealanders support state funded education a true free market in education is a pipe dream, but you would think a voucher system would give the population both state funded education they want but the quality and performance that only the market can deliver.

The teacher unions of course would vomit but do we need to sacrifice multiple generations of children so teachers do not need to work?

That's why the British education minister...

Marcus's picture

...Michael Gove is doing excellent work in reforming schools here.

He just announced a proposal to reintroduce O-levels, a more difficult leaving exam for gifted students. He has also said that parents should get used to the idea of a lot more children failing their final exams, because they will be getting much tougher.

Gove also wants to make the traditional subjects compulsory at the secondary level. Things like history, geography and foreign languages on top of the already accepted English, Maths and Science - not bollocks subjects like media studies or sports health (dumbed down subjects some schools teach to try and boost their performance ratings with).

This reminds me that I sat the "scholarship" exams in NZ in the seventh form. Do these exams still exist in NZ? I would guess not. (OK, they still exist, but instead of a true pass mark you now get a grade from 0 to 8 - i.e. no one is allowed to fail!). That's what got to me in NZ, this attitude that "it is cool to be dumb." Not just dumb, but also inarticulate. Unfortunately it's not just prevalent amongst NZ school kids, but everywhere you look. In NZ politics, culture and sports.

That's one of the reasons I left the country.

Wonderful work Linz!

Olivia's picture

Very salient and well presented op-ed.

Masterton Primary School principal Sue Walters says, "We get a lot of kids who come to school who just can't form proper sentences. They have very limited vocabulary and some are operating at a 3-year-old's level. You can't teach kids to read and write if they can't speak." Well, TV reporters in their 20s are speaking like 5-year-olds—with the active connivance of their bosses!

Brilliant point made.

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