The fallacy of literacy

Background: In Australia, there is a widespread belief that the problems we have with literacy may be remedied by ever more testing of literacy standards. At the forefront in this push, we find the politicians, ably assisted by a body called the Australian Council for Educational Research which has, in my considered professional opinion, been guilty of gross unprofessionalism over twenty years.

Forget all this stuff about literacy and literacy testing. There is a far more serious problem besetting our students. Oddly, it has a number of parallels with literacy, and it may be that we can learn from the current wisdom on literacy, and beat this problem that threatens our future as Australians.

On the face of it, given the way Australian education is going, most of today's children are going to be itinerant fruit pickers. And therein lies the problem:


Just as we are planning to do over literacy, I suggest that we immediately start testing our children for tallness. We will line them up in doorways of graduated size, and make them jump, to see if they can crash their heads against the lintels. Those who can will gain, from having some sense knocked into their heads, and the rest will gain invaluable experience in what life holds for them. Abysmal failure.

To ensure that the testing is reliable, we will only use this form of test, with graduated doorways, in order to meet our base hypothesis that tallness is a unidimensional variable, since we already know literacy is as simple as that. Never mind the weak-minded, wet pinkos who suggest that tallness on this test may be confused with variables such as diet, leg length, body length, muscular elasticity or anything else -- this is a nonsense that we can safely ignore -- the Australian Council for Educational Rubbish has told us so.

There is every chance that we can force schools into league tables, and ensure that schools are paid by results alone. With ACER tests, this should guarantee a saving right from the start. There will be no need to actually do anything with these results, as the shame of being down the league table will act as a market force to close the schools where students are too short, and to encourage students to move to the more successful schools, where the old traditions (the rack, short turns on the gallows etc) are still respected.

In-school suspension will take on a whole new meaning.

We note here that there is a gender bias, with boys usually being taller than girls, except at the time of puberty, when girls' hormonal balances change. There is a clear indication here for the need for medical intervention to inject all boys with oestrogen. In fact, while we are at it, we will inject all girls of school age with as much oestrogen as we can lay our hands on. And boys.

Citizens, it is time to act, to deal with the old enemy of Shortness, to drive it from our schools. Only in this way will the next generation be able to hold their heads high and see the wood for the fruit trees.

The author wishes to thank those deep educational thinkers, the assembled ministers for education, whose thoughts on literacy testing have so inspired him. In fact, he was so inspired that he almost hesitates to sign himself as

Peter Macinnis

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This file is part of a series, written by Peter Macinnis, and last revised on May 5, 2007

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It may be freely reproduced for educationally useful purposes (you decide if it is useful), if the file is reproduced as it appears here -- I like people to know that it is me causing them annoyance :-)

For a more serious look at literacy, see my rant on literacy.
For a more serious look at science literacy, see this article.