Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Breaking Some of the Myths - Again

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Breaking Some of the Myths - Again

Article excerpt

In this article Paul Brock identifies what he perceives to be some of the major `myths' in literacy education. Through a meticulous analysis of a range of documentation he shows that many of the so-called `truths' about literacy standards and teaching are just furphies. This material was first presented as the Opening Address at the Literacy Conference, Refocus on Reading, held at the University of Wollongong on July 18-19, 1997. In this edited transcript, the editors have sought to retain the original tone and flavour of what Dr Brock had to say as a `speech', rather than change it to the style of a written `essay'.

I thought I might accept the invitation by the conference convenors to speak on the topic of `Breaking some of the myths' by painting an historical and theoretical backdrop which will focus more particularly on the reading dimensions of literacy.

Some of you may have read the superb article in last Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald, `The great escape', written by Deirdre Macken. One section deserves exact citation.

Australians are losing touch with reality. Traumatised by change, cynical of authority and pressurised by the pace of life, people are embracing myths and misconceptions: they increasingly rely on personal anecdote rather than on expert opinion to inform their view of the world and they are more likely to view statistics as an attempt to lobby rather than an indicator of reality.

This skewered (sic) view of the world is not just a curious aberration, one of the hiccups of society in transition. The flight from reality is gathering momentum. It is feeding on itself; myth, repeated enough, becomes part of the community's pool of knowledge; misconceptions, held with enough passion, set the agenda for society.

As the polls of perceptions divert further from the grounding of sense, logic, statistics, research, considered opinion, analysis and expertise, society is becoming more vulnerable to manipulation by political groups and vested interests.(1)

More importantly, myth is receiving the imprimatur of authority as the most powerful institution -- politics -- is forced to respond to perceptions of reality rather than actual causes of concerns. The list of legislation crafted to quell misplaced fears grows annually.

Ms Macken proceeded to provide a number of striking examples, such as the myth that most single-parent pensioners are teenage girls, whereas in fact only 2.9 per cent of sole-parent pensioners in Australia are under twenty years of age.

Of course, some `myths' are valid and can be substantiated. One myth which Ms Macken showed to be true is that large numbers of extremely wealthy Australians don't pay their fair share of tax. Ms Macken cites an Australian Taxation Office survey of 100 of the Business Review Weekly magazine's Rich List which found that eighty of them had declared an income of less than $25 000.

Ms Macken's article makes no reference to false myths associated with literacy -- but her observations are absolutely apposite to this continuously controversial area of policy, perception, and practice.

Some of you may have also recently read in the Sydney press the following attack on contemporary approaches to the teaching of reading and writing:

The wholesale substitution of `modern methods' has been found to be unwise. The defects apparent in school children at the present day are summarised thus: a) The children are not thoroughly grounded in essentials; b) They are not accurate in their work. Business people in Sydney ... find these and similar defects in the children they are at present taking into their employment and they attribute them largely to the new methods of education.(2)

I must confess: I cheated. This quote was taken from an editorial in The Catholic Press, a New South Wales publication, in 1909. This leads me into the first of the literacy myths I wish to explore. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.