the post drought continues

I’m not sure where all my time is really going at the moment (or more accurately, to list what’s devouring it all would be too long and boring).

Instead, I’d have liked to dazzle you with an insightful review of OCP, last week’s phonology fest. If I had the time to marshal my thoughts, I’d be treating my readership to an evaluation of the implications of the minimalist program for phonology, a review of the manifold and not necessarily mutually supportive concerns that have been raised against the very conceptual foundations of optimality theory (did you know, o fellow phonology geeks, that Gen 2.0 was unveiled last week, and if you weren’t there to see it you’ve really missed out). It’s also intriguing to see how many advances armchair phonology can make (or not) in complete isolation from whole fields such as first and second language acqusition, and the remarkably diverse range of denotations of ‘phonetics’ that survive in the realms of old-world phonology.

However, other concerns are calling. Until things get back into some semblance of routine, don’t expect too much from here.

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dear patient readers…

… or maybe that should be would-be readers –

What I’m doing till the end of the week is attending the Old World Conference in Phonology (OCP) (the abbreviation is as phonological as the conference), right here in Edinburgh where the sun is even shining. You can find out more about it and browse through the abstracts here. Since I’m even going to be so diligent as to attend the Saturday sessions, I might not get the chance to post again till the start of next week. But stay tuned, you never know.

the altar of private prayer

In Spurgeon’s  daily readings, the morning devotional for July 15th is one of exhortation.

[Private prayer] is the very life of all piety. … Secret devotion is the very essence, evidence, and barometer of vital and experimental religion. … Let your [private devotions] be, if possible, regular, frequent, and undisturbed. … Have you nothing to pray for? Let us suggest the church, the ministry, your own soul, your children, your relations, your neighbours, your country, and the cause of God and truth throughout the whole world.

I’ve never been very good at (ie sufficiently disciplined for) using daily devotional readings, and recognise that cherrypicking from completely different months could well be regarded as subversive of the whole concept. However, someone recently gave me Spurgeon’s famous “Morning and Evening” and I’m going to dutifully see how far I can get without abandoning it in disenchantment. (I haven’t peeked at any other day apart from when it randomly fell open at July 15th, I promise.)

[Ps, I might as well add – maybe don’t expect much activity here for the next wee while. Things are going to get fairly significantly more busy and I’m not sure when I’ll get back on an even keel for blogging purposes.]

dyslexia: not a myth

The main thing that Labour MP Graham Stringer’s recent column on Manchester Confidential tells us is that he is astonishingly full of misguided and misinformed opinions.

In an article titled ‘Dyslexia is a myth,’ Mr Stringer repeatedly confuses illiteracy with dyslexia, mistakes correlation for causation, fails to notice how he refutes his own position, and reveals a touchingly naive belief in the wonder-working powers of literacy in general and ‘synthetic phonics’ in particular.

Since there’s nothing particularly new in what he says, the main impact of his article will simply be to confirm in their prejudice the many people who already incomprehensibly refuse to recognise that you can fail to learn to read and spell as efficiently as your peers without necessarily being stupid and lazy.

Contrary to what he asserts, the concept of dyslexia was not invented by the education establishment, but was in fact identified (by ophthalmologists and neurologists) roughly a century prior to the implementing of the current educational practices which he seems to believe are responsible for so many children failing to acquire basic literacy.

Contrary again to what he assumes, dyslexia has never been equated with illiteracy. At least, not by people who know what they’re talking about. You can be fully adequately literate, and still dyslexic. This is why one of his key reasons for deciding that dyslexia must be invented — namely that “countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea … have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%” — is entirely spurious.

He fails, further, to notice that conceding in one sentence that rates of functional illiteracy have “shown little variation in the last 128 years of compulsory education” rather fatally undermines his contention in the very next sentence that “if the rate of literacy were improved there would be an inevitable decline in crime”. If literacy rates have remained constant over the past century and a half while crime rates rise, how can he reasonably predict lower crime rates if literacy rates were raised?

He cheerfully then concludes that if only everyone else in the country (– world? no, because nowhere else in the world, not even the Republic of Korea, do folk trouble themselves to invent a brain disorder called dyslexia) — if only everyone else would follow the shining example of West Dunbartonshire’s primary schools and teach children to read using ‘synthetic phonics,’ all our literacy-hence-crime woes would be eliminated. Of course, although I don’t want to belittle whatever they’ve achieved, Dunbartonshire’s teachers have not eliminated their dyslexics. They’ve simply equipped them with strategies which mitigate the impact of their dyslexia on their reading (decoding) skills. Just because Mr Stringer’s understanding of the world has no room for people with dyslexia who can read doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

If Mr Stringer wants to argue that synthetic phonics is the best teaching method available, that’s one thing (and it’s okay). It’s also okay to say it’s disgraceful for a quarter of the UK population to be functionally illiterate. But claiming that dyslexia is a wicked, cruel, false, fictional malady and an invented disorder not only exposes a great deal of ignorance, misunderstanding, and prejudice but is also extremely counterproductive (the end of tackling literacy problems is hardly well served by denying the existence of one of the best-recognised contexts in which literacy difficulties are experienced). It’s also just a wee bit of a publicity-generating exaggeration.

by the by

I haven’t posted anything for a week, a whole week! Since we last spoke, I’ve spent a day travelling, a day or two earning some pennies, and the rest of the time disappeared one way or the other. Today I joined the local library and came away with a volume of Iain Crichton Smith’s collected poems. (Poor chap, he hated Lewis religion (he was a Lewisman) but there’s something very attractive about his work, and I say that even in spite of having studied some of his poems at school.) (Here’s one we didn’t do in school. Don’t think too deeply about the ending.)

The Clearances

The thistles climb the thatch. Forever
this sharp scale in our poems,
as also the waste music of the sea.

The stars shine over Sutherland
in a cold ceilidh of their own,
as, in the morning, the silver cane

cropped among corn. We will remember this.
Though hate is evil we cannot
but hope your courtier’s heels in hell

are burning: that to hear
the thatch sizzling in tanged smoke
your hot ears slowly learn.

another review

I’ve added a review of Dolina MacCuish’s new book, A Heart for Africa, to the reviews page (click here to access it, or else click through from the “Books” tab at the top of the page).

  • Dolina MacCuish (2008), A Heart for Africa: The Story of Jean Nicolson, Missionary in Zimbabwe. Free Presbyterian Publications

happy new year

Big hearty good wishes to everyone who reads and comments here! It’s a pleasure to hear from new people and old friends – whether you challenge things (and make me think) or quietly agree (and keep me accountable!).

From being just a place to spill odd thoughts this blog has been slowly becoming somewhere to have some extremely valuable discussions – and of course it’s the people who comment who make it that way. (I think I can count on one hand the number of really objectionable commenters in the past several years – encouraging me to say that if you read, you’re very welcome to comment.)

Even when it’s busy, this time of year is a good chance to look back over the events that have brought us to where we are now – and contemplating the uncertainties of what the coming year might hold is also a reminder of our own vulnerability.

For anyone who is already reconciled to God there is a great deal of comfort to be drawn from considering that the Saviour is also the one who holds time in his hands and makes everything work together for good for his people. Meanwhile there is still time, if people will use it, to be reconciled – and so find safety not only for our souls in view of eternity, but peace of mind for whatever might happen to us here before then.