Letter to the Media on “Retention Rates” ~ This is for you Jeanne

Way back in early March I wrote to the Mercury about all the pointless trumpeting about raising ‘retention rates’. The title the Mercury supplied was “School problems stem from the root”. So I think my message was understood. AND they gave me the “Blue Spot” 🙂 Read my letter below. PS sorry for my neglect – life has been on the fast train of late.


What is it that “educators” don’t understand about “horse, stable, bolted”?

If students still can’t read & write after 10 years of schooling, two more years of failure & misery aren’t going to make any difference. Such students can’t wait to leave school.

Further, the only card they have left to play is that they are younger and cheaper & therefore still picked up by employers. Some prove to be worthy workers, retain their job and contribute to society. If the current initiative to force them into 2 or even 3 more years in school, what happens when they finally leave?

Funding and time spent on spraying the branches of the tree of knowledge are of little use when the real problem all along has been root-rot. We’ve had 3 decades of ministers being ill-advised to focus on the top end – it hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work this time either.

The elephant in the room represents Prep to Gr 3 where the foundation skills of reading and writing are (should be) laid down. For decades newly trained teachers have been complaining that, on completion of a 4 year B.Ed they don’t feel confident to teach reading. This is no surprise as their training is biased towards a “progressive” (now there is a misnomer if ever their was one) approach that emphasises “facilitating” over “direct teaching”. In infant classrooms this is inappropriate.

A traditional University education frees the mind. Current teacher training ‘boxes the mind’ and is complicit in leaving a swathe of vital knowledge covering our powerful alphabetic system out of the picture … Why? It offends a fatally flawed “progressive” ideology when applied to infant grades.

The so called “Reading Wars” are a fallacy. It was a well orchestrated coup.

How do I know? I lived it. I was a mother of 3; a mature age B.Ed uni student; a participant in many practical experience sessions across both public and private sector schools;an attendee of the big on rhetoric, poor on detail PD sessions; the founder of a learning centre (we saw the fallout in terms of struggling students); an M. Ed student studying in Faculties other than the Education Faculty – needless to say the knowledge paradigms conflicted.

A whole Language emphasis in the infant sector is more than just inadequate, it is harmful.

The same old “blame the teachers” game is in full swing. “We need a better quality of trainees” – well they were fed progressivist methodology in the first place so put the blame where it rightfully belongs – at the feet of the biased academics running the show in Education faculties, supported by equally biased Education Department staffers.

Note: No base testing was conducted prior to the introduction of what was initially called “Language Experience”. As mothers, we were told that our concerns were due to a few initial teething problems. Assurance was given that we would soon see a marked improvement in reading skills. I am now a grandmother – I’m still waiting. How I would love to hit a “reset button”.

Jean Harrison,