A recommendation from ten years ago

The post from June 2007 which follows needs updating: Strange Maps is still around and just as good, but has moved.

Maps

27 JUNE 2007
I love maps. Always have. You’ll notice that I now have a map as my masthead, and yes my place is in there somewhere, so there you see my little everyday world. Last April I referred to a marvellous blog called Strange Maps, which is often one of the top blogs here on WordPress.
Here are smaller versions of a couple of recent ones. You must visit Strange Maps to see them bigger, read about them, and start exploring the other maps.
First, 130 – A Ten-State Australia, which should interest Jim Belshaw and horrify John Howard, I suspect.

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Second, 131 – US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs.

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Fascinating site.

Aspergers, English-speaking and Senator Revenant

To supplement my post Testing for English competence? read Annabel Crabb in today’s Sun-Herald.

The policy – proposed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton with all the mellifluity of a man who has spent nine years in the Queensland Police – is currently under consideration by the parliament…

It’s drawn immediate support from Pauline Hanson.

Asked by Channel Seven what she thought of the proposed test and its associated Australian residency requirement extension from one to four years, the Senator declared: “It’s a start in the right direction.”…

The last minor mangle is a small sample of Senator Revenant’s somewhat loose connection to the English language. What price her IELTS score, I wonder?

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Interesting: If you can’t speak English, you don’t deserve to call yourself a Senator, Pauline Hanson.

SHE wears her love of Australia like a badge of honour, but a leading speech expert says Senator Pauline Hanson should consider learning how to speak our language if she wants to inspire the nation.

Michael Kelly, a body language and speech expert gave Ms Hanson’s maiden speech in the Senate barely a pass mark of 5.5 out of 10, blaming her poor pronunciation and “clunky” delivery for creating an “amateurish” first impression.

Putting aside her controversial politics, the 30-minute oration was “not up to the standards Australians should expect of an inspiring member of the Senate,” Mr Kelly said.

Stumbling over basic words like “custody” and “integral,” Ms Hanson gave the impression she had not rehearsed the much-anticipated speech, which “lacked impact,” was “monotone” and at times was “twee” and “juvenile,” Mr Kelly claimed.

“It was like she was completely unprepared. She hadn’t worked out her phrasing, it was monotone and she struggled to read parts of it out,” he said.

“She was mispronouncing words like “custody” which she delivered as “cus-dy” and that just leaves an unprofessional impression,” he said…

The lowest point were her remarks offering to drive migrants to the airport herself, Mr Kelly said, immature and unbecoming of a senior parliamentarian….

To be uncharacteristically fair to the Revenant of Oz. I suspect that much of the trouble she has brought on her own head over the education of children with disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum, stems from her own intellectual and linguistic incapacity.  Rather than being taken out of context, her remarks had been typically garbled and ill-considered, but she does have a point. There should be better training and resourcing for the education of children with disabilities in the mainstream. I have a little experience here as in my last three years of teaching one of my duties was to support one-on-one some students with Aspergers. I had a couple of successes and one not so successful. At the time (2003-2005) this was all rather new to us. Glad to say one of the students concerned is now a friend on Facebook.

Many years ago — 1970 in fact — I taught at Dapto High School, south of Wollongong. In those days we had no idea at all — I do not exaggerate — when confronted, if we were, with students with such things as Aspergers/autism. Today is so different, as this excellent page from Dapto High attests. Do visit it if you want authoritative information on the subject.

I looked that up because of an item in today’s Sun-Herald by Peter FitzSimons — someone whose writing at times annoys me. But not today…

Even for Pauline Hanson, her attack this week on kids with autism – maintaining they had no place in “our” class-rooms – took the breath away. As ever, her polarising politics is divisive, driven by a mean-spiritedness that has set post-war records in Australian politics, and entirely ill-informed. In fact, the inclusion of students on the autism spectrum and wider Special Needs students has been successful across our brown and pleasant land, and some of it I have seen up close.

TFF’s brother, Andrew, is Principal at Dapto High School, where they have run a stunningly successful integration program for students on the autism spectrum for the last nine years, and they now have no fewer than 28 of them.

“These students enrich our school and this community every day,” he told me on Friday. “Students are encouraged to participate in the full range of activities: sporting, cultural, academic etc. Participation in mainstream classes is accommodated when ever possible; often playing to particular strengths; Art , Music, Engineering etc. It works. Never had a single complaint. It is inspirational and heart-warming on so many levels for so many of our Dapto students . . . and wonderful for those on the spectrum, and their families, too.”

Great to hear!

Flowers and grief: for my mother

Recently I posted about Vermont Street, Sutherland, where I lived from 1952-1955, and again in 1963-4. The circumstances of that first sojourn are well expressed in my mother’s words from the 1960s:

Then in 1945 the guns of War ceased. We hoped so vainly they had stopped for all time–and the father came home. The next few years held struggle of a different kind for the young weary parents whose lives, like so many, had been so deviously interrupted. To return to the normal, the everyday, does not perhaps seem difficult, but it is so very difficult, as so many found. Everything had altered, values and concepts had changed. One thing sustained this young family–the love of man for woman, of woman for man, of man and woman for their children. To hope, to pray, with faith, that some day, sometime, there would be a better world for all to live in. Again the years went swiftly–two years, four years, ordinary troubles, measles, mumps, broken arms, children’s hurts to mend–the guiding, the helping, the encouraging, the children growing, the joys, the laughter.

The babe of 1940 [my sister Jeanette] was now a slight, fair, lovable schoolgirl of twelve. So proud were the parents of this so dear a child who held the promise of the future in her clear blue eyes. The dreams they had–the dreams she had–such lovely dreams, such beautiful golden dreams.

The father and the mother bought a house, their first “own” home. Just an ordinary house in an ordinary street, in an ordinary suburb, in an Australian city. A house with room enough for the children to grow in to live in, to be “home” in all its true and good meaning. Moving day came with all its pressures, its turmoils, but with happiness in the hearts. The unseen figure in the shadows moved closer and struck, taking with it back to the shadows the beloved child, the child with so much promise, so many dreams–the child whose very presence had helped the mother’s war-torn soul through the years and whose sparkling nature had helped the father through the rehabilitation period. The beloved blue eyes were closed to this world forever.

So we were all grieving in that place, I see now more clearly: my father, brother, and myself no less than my mother. I can recall nightmares often involving death, and odd little memorials made of pebbles that I would make in various obscure parts of the garden.

My mother took to growing flowers, even winning a prize in the local flower show for her pansies or sweet peas or violets — I don’t quite recall which. Her flowers were those of that time — no natives among them. That came later when we moved to Kirrawee and had waratahs and wattles and bottlebrush in abundance.

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Sweet peas

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Iceland poppies

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Violets

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Pansies

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Phlox

Did you know that Iceland poppies have nothing to do with Iceland?

Otto Warmbier’s death underlines plight of thousands of North Koreans

That is a must-read opinion piece by former justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby.

Otto’s individual story is so sad indeed, but as Michael Kirby writes:

A seemingly minor player on the geographical chess board, North Korea has suddenly aspired to be a king. A tiny pawn, like Otto Warmbier, can quite easily be removed from the game, and even from life. When and how the young Otto’s brain damage first occurred may never be known. Like much else about North Korea, it is shrouded in obsessive secrecy and mystery.

How should we remember Otto Warmbier from Ohio? His plight should draw our attention to the sufferings of an entire people subjected in North Korea to daily acts of fearsome disproportion and violence. Accidently perhaps, Otto’s incarceration, coma, removal and death, once again, call to notice the sufferings of the other prisoners, languishing in the jails of North Korea. A young American’s fate becomes a metaphor, a kind of symbol, of a big story about thousands of nameless statistics locked up and oppressed in North Korea. They are voiceless. But Otto Warmbier speaks of their suffering from his grave.

One of the silliest-looking world leaders (though there has been competition for that lately from another self-clapper) and surely one of the most rotten in every sense.

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Go to the United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which was chaired by Justice Kirby. Read it and weep.

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Testing for English competence?

On Facebook yesterday I posted with reference to Could you pass the proposed English test for Australian citizenship? The author of that, Misty Adoniou, is Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra. I was from 1990-2010 for much of the time a teacher of ESOL or ESL in a private language college, at a state high school, at an Anglican school, and as a private tutor, so I have had a professional interest. My post:

This is outrageous! If this had been the case twenty years ago my friend M, a very successful citizen indeed, would have failed, as would more successful citizens than you could poke a stick at, including quite a few Anglos born here! IELTS Band 6? A stupid suggestion — and as a retired ESL/ESOL I know that test well. “Aspiring Australian citizens will need to score a Band 6 on the general stream of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, the same score as those seeking entry to Australia’s top university” This requirement MUST NOT pass. Stupid Dutton!

I am marginally less excited this morning, but not much…

The Australian government has been proposing among other things a strengthening of the English Language requirements for those aspiring to be Australian citizens. (That link to a PDF currently works, but typically as with any government discussion paper could disappear at any time.)

English language is essential for economic participation and social cohesion,
and there are certain standards that must be met, especially for those
who are seeking to become a permanent resident or Australian citizen.

There is strong public support to ensure aspiring citizens are fully able
to participate in Australian life, by speaking English, our national language.
Aspiring citizens are currently required to possess a level of ‘basic’ English
to meet the requirements for citizenship. This is tested when an applicant
sits the Australian citizenship test.

Aspiring citizens will be required to undertake separate upfront English
language testing with an accredited provider and achieve a minimum
level of ‘competent’.

People currently exempt from sitting the Australian citizenship test, for example
applicants over 60 years of age, or under 16 years of age at the time they
applied for citizenship or those with an enduring or permanent mental
or physical incapacity, will be exempt from English language testing.

The test most people will confront is the internationally respected  IELTS test.  I have worked with this test in the past. This SBS page summarises well:

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also outlined in a press release that the English test that applicants will be required to pass involve will involve elements of reading, writing, listening and speaking. This is thought that it will therefore make it equivalent to IELTS level 6.

What does “competent” mean here?

Let’s see how the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is scored as a comparative benchmark to define a “competent” English level.

IELTS measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as a language of communication. The test assesses areas including listening, reading, writing and speaking – in less than three hours.

According to the IELTS official site, there are two types of IELTS tests: Academic and General Training.

The General Training type, which focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts, is normally considered easier than the Academic type, and is already a requirement for migration to Australia.

It is therefore more likely to assume that Government’s citizenship test will look at the standard of the General type….

Currently, for international students in Australia hoping to study full-time in a recognised education institution, they need need an overall IELTS score of 5.5 for Academic type.

However, most universities set their English proficiency requirement at an overall score of 6.5. For University of Sydney, many faculties and courses actually require an overall band score of 7.0 or better with a minimum score of 6.0 in each of the components.

It is therefore quite hopeful to assume that the new English requirement shall not be a significant obstacle for those young people who successfully manage to accomplish a degree, migrate and live in Australia before applying for citizenship.

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Labor is exaggerating when they say the test is “university level”, but I still feel the proposal, even if it refers to Band 6 on the General IELTS in listening, reading, writing and speaking, is setting the bar unreasonably high. As Misty Adoniou says:

I prepared students for the IELTS test when I lived and taught in Greece. They needed a score of 6 to get into Foundation courses in British universities. It wasn’t an easy test and sometimes it took them more than one try to succeed.

My students were middle class, living comfortably at home with mum and dad. They had been to school all their lives and were highly competent readers and writers in their mother tongue of Greek.

They had been learning English at school since Grade 4, and doing private English tuition after school for even longer. Essentially they had been preparing for their IELTS test for at least 8 years.

They were not 40-year-old women whose lives as refugees has meant they have never been to school, and cannot read and write in their mother tongue.

Neither were they adjusting to a new culture, trying to find affordable accommodation and a job while simultaneously dealing with post-traumatic stress and the challenge of settling their teenage children into a brand new world.

I strongly suspect that if I were to spring a battery of IELTS tests on the usual clientele at City Diggers in Wollongong a rather alarming number — all of them citizens and many born here, including “Anglos” — would fail to make Band 6 in one or more of the skill areas. Of course they are all nonetheless competent as citizens.

A curious justification for tightening English is some apparent connection to resisting terrorism:

Recent terrorist attacks around the world have justifiably caused concern
in the Australian community. The Government responds to these threats
by continuing to invest in counter-terrorism, strong borders and strong
national security. This helps to ensure that Australia remains an open,
inclusive, free and safe society.

In the face of these threats, there is no better time to reaffirm our
steadfast commitment to democracy, opportunity and our shared values.

The English Test is after all part of that package, and on those grounds alone I feel Labor has been justified in sending it back to the drawing board.

As far as I know I have not met any terrorists, but I have been up close and personal with a well-known member of  Hizb ut-Tahrir, as I recount here and here.

This goes back to 2005 and a particularly interesting if controversial event. On the day I was not there, as I had to attend a meeting of ESL teachers at Erskineville – or was it Arncliffe, one of the last such meetings for me as I retired the following year. But I did know all the participants at The Mine end, and I posted on it at the time and the following year. See Salt Mine and Islamic Students; 7.30 Report: The Mine and the Islamists; The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?. On Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 there is also a major entry from April 2006.

What I found yesterday was a video on YouTube of the complete 2005 Seminar [still there at 9 Oct 2014] referred to in those entries. The controversy centred on the guest speakers, Sheik Khalid Yassin and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Wassim Doureihi. These people would fall in one of Michael Burleigh’s inner circles (see previous entry) but not necessarily, of course, into the innermost circle. While I had concerns about the Mine students involved, I very much doubt they would have even considered the innermost circle – quite the opposite in fact. (I also refer to these students in my Cronulla 2005 posts.)

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Stills from the video.

Mine students often show initiative, of course, and these particular students were very bright indeed and participated in all aspects of school life to the full. An earlier generation some ten years before promised they would have Barry Crocker and Kamahl at their farewell assembly. We thought they were joking, but on the day, there they were! The Tamils were especially happy. So were the office ladies.

What I can say is that Wassim and company would have had no trouble passing IELTS at a very high level, so what is Mr Dutton actually doing?

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You know who…

Related: it is worth taking the challenge of this article from 2015. And also along the lines we are freaking out rather more than we should, read Londoner Stephen Liddell from 10 June 2017: Talk of Terrorism is all hype. He posts this, figures relating presumably to the UK:

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Do check my other posts tagged “terror”.