Saturday, November 13, 2010

Irrationality - our default state?

We at Sounds-Write have long puzzled over why it is that government minsters, literacy specialists, college professors and whatnot aren't utterly and completely persuaded by the results we get with our programme. In our longitudinal study on over fifteen hundred pupils being taught using Sounds-Write throughout Key Stage 1, over ninety percent were within six months of their chronological age on a properly normed and standardised spelling test, a very good measure we thought of how literate they were.
What was even more amazing about these results is that they weren't cherry-picked. We took all the data teachers from a wide number of schools across the country gave us. Where the programme was being implemented with great fidelity the results were more impressive still: in one school 98% of children (forty-nine out of fifty pupils) scored above their chronological age on the test.
However, as the New Scientist points out in its latest issue (13 November 2010), 'for believers in rationality, the modern world is often a frustrating and bewildering place'. Why? Because quack superstitions, beliefs and irrational remedies are thriving and a 'cold-eyed blend of objectivity, data and logic' is just not sufficient. The editorial argues that 'human beings are not wired for logic'.
Whenever I run a training for teachers, I always bear in mind the late Jeanne Chall's dictum: twenty-five percent of trainees will embrace the ideas and the methodology presented with enthusiasm and implement the programme with absolute fidelity; fifty percent will also implement the programme, except that they will be unable to resist bringing in ideas and approaches they've always clung on to even when they run counter to the new approach; and, twenty-five percent either won't, for all sorts of reasons, implement the programme, or they'll do it so badly that it doesn't work.
H Rider Haggard explained it very well in his introduction to Allan Quatermain over a hundred and thirty years ago; but that's another story.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear John, Great stuff as ever. But now you've got me wondering what it was that Rider Haggard explained so well? Do please share!

John said...

Hi Anon,
This is a bit tongue in cheek but the words from Rider Haggard I had in mind were the following:
'Man's (sic) cleverness is almost infinite, and stretches like an elastic band, but human nature is like an iron ring. You can go round and round it, you can polish it highly, you can even flatten it a little on one side whereby you will make it bulge out upon the other, but you will NEVER, while the earth endures and man is man, increase its total circumference. It is the one fixed unchangeable thing – fixed as the stars, more enduring than the mountains, unalterable as the way of the Eternal.
Human nature is God's kaleidoscope, and the little bits of coloured glass which represent our passions, hopes, fears, joys, aspirations towards good and evil and what not, are turned in His mighty hand as surely and certainly as it turns the stars, to fall continually into new patterns and combinations. But the composing elements remain the same, nor will there be one more bit of coloured glass nor one less for ever and ever.'
It's a bit of a mixed simile/metaphor and the appeal to an Almighty probably had as much to do with the fact that Haggard had just lost his only son, Jock, in childhood, as anything, but life does seem to be a little like he says sometimes.