Monday, August 10

Congratulations, Justine Ferrari

It's a pleasure to report that The Australian's education reporter, Justine Ferrari, has won the Australian College of Educators' annual award for excellence in journalism.

John DeCourcy, NSW president of the organisation, said:

"While Justine is critical of many aspects of what may be considered 'accepted wisdom' in some educational hierarchies, she both intelligently argues a case and gives a fair representation to alternative positions.
“Above all, her principal focus, which she shares with the college, is on quality and equity for all children, in all schools and in all systems."

Ms Ferrari was an outstanding young reporter when your Grumpy Old Journo was nearing the end of his working life on the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and a few months ago I presumed on that acquaintanceship to send her an email.

In a blog post on May 8 headed, “At last, The Australian shows how education should be reported,” I had praised her long, detailed front-page report about the introduction of a grammar curriculum as balanced, fair and comprehensive – particularly in its description of other grammars, such as those labelled “transformational” or “systemic functional”.

But in a comment which could have been seen as critical of Ms Ferrari (but wasn't meant to be), I contrasted the article to The Australian's treatment of the debate on the use of phonics in teaching reading. In a post on April 30, I had said:

. . . when the Oz reports only one side of an argument, it's not because the editors are biased. The editors know children should learn to read by phonics alone – they know every other approach is discredited. Me? I'd like to make up my own mind by evaluating the differing arguments. I'd like the news reports to lay out those arguments, even briefly.

Ms Ferrari replied with a courteous email. I hope she won't mind my quoting part of it:

On your point about balance of reading and phonics, in my defence I would argue that the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of explicit and systematic phonics as the first necessary step in learning to read. The debate is over the place at which phonics is taught, not that it isn't taught altogether or that it's the only skill required to be taught, as is often presented.

As a grumpy old fellow, I sometimes put my two bob's worth of opinion into the blathersphere. But perhaps two bob is all it's worth. I'm an outsider peering through the fence as traditionalists and progressives clash on the battlefield, wielding impressive armaments of research data.

That's why I welcome Justine Ferrari's skills to help me make sense of these complex issues. And why it's pleasing to note John DeCourcy's praise, “she both intelligently argues a case and gives a fair representation to alternative positions”.

Justine Ferrari's grammar report drew an interesting range of comment.

As evidence of her views on “quality and equity for all children, in all schools and in all systems", may I point to a paper Ms Ferrari prepared for an Australian Council of State School Organisations forum last March. What's the ACSSO?

"Literacy educators are becoming increasingly demoralised and frustrated at the relentless, simplistic, headline-grabbing attacks on their professionalism" – Dr Beverly Derewianka, Director, Centre for Research in Language and Literacy, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong. (to read more). And to see the views of other academics and teachers on what they see as attacks by conservatives, try this.

A Wry Side columnist to The Australian, Emma Tom, recounts her university experience of an intellectually demanding non-traditional grammar. She also mocks people who nit-pick their way through misplaced apostrophes.


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