“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 1)

This last piece of bicultural fiction in my book “Pithy Perspectives” has entranced readers. I offer it in segments, because of its length, but also to allow ‘Wordpress’ readers to digest the events presented. The New South Wales President of the Federation of Australian Writers was quite entranced by this parable.

The Plan

House spoke. He had the right to speak first because he was the Elder of the tribe. Speaking first has traditionally been understood in all manner of societies to indicate unobtrusively, implicitly, and without further sign or signal the authority necessary to lead. Yet, it was also understood that age or seniority did not necessarily deliver that authority. However, House’s tribe had agreed in that democratic way that had been lost since the demise of the Athenians (who, one might remember, had resided in that location which, nearly 1,500 years later, had become part of a new nation called Greece), that House was entitled to speak first.

So, House the mouse spoke first. But, as soon as he started to articulate his scrambled thoughts, for rapidly advancing age does tend to scramble – as with an egg in a frying pan being man-handled (so to speak) – thoughts, both formed and preformed, Mona (his number one wife) began to moan. Her moaning did not, however, discomfit the tribe because Mona always knew what House was going to say – so she claimed.

Was she clairvoyant? On the contrary, she had lived with House long enough to anticipate not only his words but also his thoughts. Ah, so she thought! She really should have consulted his sainted mother, now in the land of the angels, and thereby able to guide her. For House was not a common house mouse (that is how he received his pseudonym) or even a garden mouse. He was indeed an intellectual mouse who, when the moon was in conjunction with Pluto (not the neighbor’s dog), could not only see into the future but also anticipate trouble. That might explain why he had not been eaten by Whicky, the Persian cat who shared the house with him.

Whicky, so named by little Virginia who, at age eighteen months, had displayed the normal age-related inability to say certain sounds, was a very relaxed beast. He must have been since he seemed unable to see or even sense the presence of House when they were only a meter apart in the kitchen. But Whicky was not the problem. It was Mangy Maxwell (MM), Whicky’s best friend, who lived next door, who posed an existence-threatening problem. Existence is, of course, as Whicky had already intuited, an ephemeral matter. Well, not so much matter as energy perhaps. For, as the ancient Hindus have taught, not only is matter interchangeable with energy, all existence is only Maya; that is, neither real (but not in a Platonic sense) nor unreal and that both real and unreal are merely transitory emanations from that ocean of consciousness from which all objects with form and name arise.

To counter MM, the mice in House’s environs had tried travelling en masse. Yet, after each foraging trip through the paddocks adjoining House’s domain, there would be one less member. They believed that cunning MM had somehow managed to side-swipe into his maws one of their lot.

House had finally decided to have a confabulation. He, in his Whicky-derived wisdom – because it was Whicky’s demeanor which had allowed House to grow old and thereby wise – knew what the solution was. But, before he could speak, Mona had risen with all the authority of ancient wives to speak for him. Big mistake! Wife number two, Angelina, much younger and not as bound by habituation, was not about to let Mona upstage House. So she broke into the moaning that had just begun to flow like water over-flowing a bathtub and insisted – ever so courteously and in that acceptable voice of gentility which is far more persuasive than any other kind of oral delivery – that House should have his leadership say.

Gratefully, House stood up (on his hind legs of course) and spoke. He spoke with that authority which can only come from leadership – whether imposed or earned. He uttered these words of profound wisdom: “We need to bell that cat!”

 

The Problem

Thus, in the beginning were the words. The words were: “We need to bell that cat!”

Then came the void – the void of ocean-deep silence. And what silence! Was there such a silence after God had said to her entourage, “I am, there I create”?

The silence convinced House that he had not dropped a clanger. His suggested solution for the tribe was sound. That terrible silence surrounded the mice and suspended all potential sounds in much the same way as a sea mist seeps onto its foreshore, engulfing, as it were, all other matter whether alive or dead, animate or inanimate, conscious or unconscious. The silence which had suddenly flooded the consciousness of the mice was not as heavy as that winter fog that can press down upon one with its weight of moisture about to be deposited without discrimination upon freedom-filled flesh or feathers. It was also not like the summer mist that filters the dawning light to produce an enlightening glow which yet renders insubstantial all that it subsumes.

Instead, in that deep void of silence, all the brains brought to the confabulation of mice suddenly went berserk. Never had these brains been so stimulated. Never had the normal chatter of trivia which so occupies the lives of mice (and mankind) been silenced by the enormity of this plan of concerted action. And thus and thereby, all the brains went into hyper-drive. If channeled into some kind of propulsive mechanism, collectively they could have found themselves in one of the inter-galactic “worm-holes” alleged by certain speculative cosmologists to link any one universe with another.

But then what would mice know about the Cosmos? On the other hand, how are we humans to know whether intergalactic or interstellar travelers (viz. anthropologists, members of the food supply industry, or armament merchants) have not already insinuated themselves into each and every life-form on Earth? If this has already happened, it would only be an extension of the now well-known path of neo-colonialism. This process of entrapment of the resources and minds of “others” (that is, those who are not “us”) is currently being propagated with a prodigious proficiency by the lust of the last of the white-skinned colonizers. As ever, similarly pigment-deficient accumulators of the assets of others had, over a few recent centuries, not accepted that all humans are but projections from the one and only Creator of the universe and that the urge to control resources that transitorily belong to “others” is truly futile. After all, one cannot even take one’s material body into the ether on Judgment Day. It must be admitted, however, that mice normally do not bother themselves with matters which preoccupy the minds of socially sensitive souls of the human kind, intergalactic and interstellar observer-participants of mice (and mankind) possibly (and probably) excluded.

After an extended silence of the void created by many minds in gear, one mouse started to speak. In his excitement at having suddenly produced a clear and undeniable thought, he forgot to ask for permission to speak from the chairman, his tribal leader. House therefore would not accept his right to stand up (on his hind legs of course) and to speak. As soon as the others saw Porthos (the mouse who thought that he had a clear and undeniable thought) stand up, they erupted. Vesuvius, that great volcano of ancient lore, would have been envious. Fortunately, unlike that eruption that had destroyed Pompeii, the eruption at the confabulation of mice was only oral. An observer of this aural reverberation might be forgiven for remembering, with some amusement, that famous childhood aphorism: “I tought I tought I saw a puddy tat”. For any vision of the pussycat MM, whether real, imagined, or illusory, would certainly have caused a comparable decampment.

The dam was now broken. All those mouse brains in gear, silently churning all manner of clear ideas and fragmentary thoughts as well as visions and feelings not quite ready to be transformed mentally into unspoken words now switched from processing to projection. All that mental grinding, not unlike the grinding of the tectonic plates below the surface of Earth, led to the uplifting into potentially vocal sounds, again not unlike the uplifting of ground-up magma within a volcano, and finally to that mighty explosion of sound. Vesuvius would indeed have been envious.

In the process, poor Porthos was drowned out, but only aurally. Even if the sounds were all near-subliminal squeaks, the uproar was truly deafening. But House cleverly allowed them all to jump up and down and have their say. This they all did simultaneously. He realized that all that brain-power had to be released. He therefore waited patiently for that strange phenomenon demonstrated by large vocal groups: when all the froth and fury of self-expression had been exhausted, there would be a silence – the silence of uncertainty. The unspoken question would then be: “Where do we go from here?” Or, more pithily (as that great Chinese sage Lin Yu Tang might have said to his porcine pet): “What now, old sow?’

 

 

Comparing Modernist and Postmodern Educational Theory

Comparing Modernist and Postmodern Educational Theory

From Xenos Christian Fellowship website

Author: Dennis McCallum

  Modernist Theory Postmodernist Theory
Knowledge Educators ideally should be authoritative transmitters of unbiased knowledge Educators are biased facilitators and co-“constructors” of knowledge.
Culture Culture is something students should learn about, but can also be a barrier to learning. Students from diverse cultures must be trained in a shared language, or medium of communication, before teachers can transmit knowledge to them. The modernist goal of unifying society results in domination and exploitation, because unity is always based on dominant culture. All cultures are not only of equal value, but also constitute equally important realities. Minority students must be “empowered” to fight against Eurocentric enculturation.
Values Traditional modernists believe that educators are legitimate authorities on values, and therefore they should train students in universal values. More liberal modernists argue that education should be “values-neutral.” Teachers help students with “values clarification”–deciding what values each individual student will hold. Values can, and should be separated from facts. The most important values are rationality and progress. Education should help students construct diverse and personally useful values in the context of their cultures. Values are considered useful for a given culture, not true or right in any universal sense. Since teachers cannot avoid teaching their own values, it’s okay for teachers to openly promote their values and social agendas in the classroom. Important values to teach include striving for diversity, tolerance, freedom, creativity, emotions and intuition.
Human Nature Modernists generally believe in a stable, inherent self that can be objectively known. In addition, since humans are thought to have a stable essential nature, IQ tests, and other similar “objective tests”, can be used to discover students’ innate intelligence. By giving them mastery over subject matter, teachers enhance students’ self-esteem. Education helps individuals discover their identities. Individuals and society progress by learning and applying objective knowledge. Students have no “true self” or innate essence. Rather, selves are social constructs. Postmodern educators believe self-esteem is a pre-condition for learning. They view education as a type of therapy. Education helps individuals construct their identities rather than discover them. Individuals and society progress when people are empowered to attain their own chosen goals.

Is this a fair comparison? Does one refer to an integrated people of diverse cultures, whereas the other emphasises the retention of individual cultures in a multi-ethnic nation?

More importantly, the self is a social construct. The family and society, impacting on the innate core propensities of the child, progressively give it self-esteem, and the ability to survive economically.  At the same time, the child is enabled to adapt effectively to its varied societal environments. This process is everywhere the same except in ‘command’ societies.

Is it not true that human and societal behaviour is everywhere the same, and for the same reasons? Beware those who seek to divide people and society according to their prejudices!  

Phonics vs. whole word/ whole of language

Ramesh

When i worked with primary grades i also found half of the students are finding difficulties to read and write by using whole language approach. Its difficult to memorize 100,000 words to teach the students read and write. The phonics approach is working well, Tamil language had 12 vowels and 18 Consonants and 12 CVC, Once children learn this 12+18+12 They will be able to read and write whatever they want. Phonics is simple approach that can apply to teaching reading.

AYOPEJU FALEKULO

Phonics cannot be taught outside of the child developing a rich use of vocabulary, neither can the study of language end at the gateway of phonics! English language is complex, and even if it wasn’t you still need to delve into the structure of words, sentences and continue to build vocabulary knowledge over the years.

I do not believe that we should complicate the life of a child by making them memorize each written word, it is better to start with auditory perception of language structure, that is the child learning that the words they speak are made up of sound (phonemes) , which is phonemic awareness even before they start learning the symbols, they can hear the sounds and know them, then add on the symbols and start reading, then add onto this knowledge of phonograms and continue to build on the structure and grammar of language as the child enters the elementary years.

The whole language concept is something that has its place in elementary years. I really do not think it serves us well to use this as a method to teach 3 to 5 years old how to read, neither does the Phonics method work if it is done without a good foundation in vocabulary building and language use. Both sides of the coin have their use. That is why following the child is so important, if a child can’t get it via one method then you surely will find what works for the child! Anyway that’s my take.

What Does the Research Say?

Because of disagreements over the years about which type of reading instruction is best, phonics or whole language, the National Reading Panel began a study in 1997 to settle the debate. In 2000, the Panel released its findings, stating that there are five essential components that must be taught in an effective reading program: phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension.1

Cons of the Whole Language Approach

Aside from overlooking spelling and technical mistakes, the whole language approach can also present problems for students with reading difficulties. Students with dyslexia and other language processing disorders need explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding in order to improve their reading skills. With the high prevalence of processing disorders (15-20% of all students), many reformers believe explicit and systematic phonics instruction should be used to teach every student how to read – in order to prevent these students from falling behind. The whole language approach works for many students, but explicit and systematic phonics instruction works for students of all levels (and greatly decreases spelling and pronunciation errors).

Constructivist Theory

The philosophy of whole language is complex and draws from education, linguistics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Whole language is a constructivist approach to education; constructivist teachers emphasize that students create (construct) their own knowledge from what they encounter. Using a holistic approach to teaching, constructivist teachers do not believe that students learn effectively by analyzing small chunks of a system, such as learning the letters of the alphabet in order to learn language. Constructivist instructors see learning as a cognitive experience unique to each learner’s own perspective and prior knowledge, which forms the framework for new knowledge.

The above are extracts from ‘What is the “Whole Language” Approach to Teaching Reading?’ from   The Reading Horizons Blog (Sept.23, 2010), with my added emphasis. How different is Constructivist Theory from post-modernism?

 

 

 

Separate legal rights for minority populations? (2)

By the third generation, an immigrant cultural group will have accepted the host nation’s institutions and adapted to prevailing social mores. While institutions are necessarily durable, social mores will be an on-going feast, with mutual adaptation.

The cohesive influences in this process are public education, habituation (that is, being  comfortable in  on-going contact through sport or just socialisation with those whose ancestors may once have been ‘them, not us’), and that innate or instinctive reaching out displayed by very young children who have not been taught any prejudice about skin colour, language and other irrelevant matters.

Most importantly, in Australia, everyone is free to pray as they wish, to cook, dress and eat as they wish, and to speak their language freely.  They are only required to accept the host nation’s institutions and social (ie. behavioural) mores, and to respect all other cultural communities.  Immigrants know all about this as they seek to enter Australia.  On what basis, by what right, can they then seek to have the host nation’s institutions altered, especially when religion has been successfully kept separate from governance?

Different laws and different institutions for each separatist ethnic minority immigrant community?  How quaint!

In my second book ‘The Karma of Culture,’ initially published under my birth name Arasa, I deal with the cross-cultural impacts of a diverse immigrant intake, and the potential for Asian cultural and spiritual values to influence Western thinking about democracy, human rights, and societal values.

The book also teases out the implications for immigrants who choose to retain their cultural values and practices unaltered, in terms of a possible diminished access to the prevailing equal opportunity; and examines the consequential benefits of relinquishing inconsistent behaviour and attitudes. 

I am an 88-year old bicultural Asian-Australian who had published three experience-based narratives with analysis on ethnic affairs, multiculturalism, citizenship, refugee entry, and migrant settlement assistance; and a memoir which overlays a blend of history, sociology, and personal experiences with an Asian spirituality onto an integrated Australian persona, under my conjoined Westernised name. 

 

Dr. Seuss quotes on life (2)

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”

“In my world, everyone’s a pony and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies!”

“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”

“So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.”

“Only you can control your future.”

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”
(From ‘keepinspiring.me’.  How does one describe a mind like this? Not platitudinous, is it?)

 

 

 

 

Funny political one-liners

My favorite mythical creature? The honest politician.

Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.

America is a country which produces citizens who will cross the ocean to fight for democracy but won’t cross the street to vote.

I asked my North Korean friend how it was there, he said he couldn’t complain.

A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

I don’t approve of political jokes…I’ve seen too many of them get elected.

 

(From the Internet – ‘One line fun’)

EARLY MEMORIES: Culture shocks in Oz (1)

Growing up in a nation-in-the-making had inured me to a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multicultural population. Mutually tolerant co-existence, with necessary co-operation and courtesy, was the widening norm.

When I boarded my small ship in Singapore, there were labourers available to load my heavy tin trunk. Disembarkation in Sydney, train travel to Melbourne, and a taxi to the YMCA there were effectively self-service. White Australia had been premised with the objective of creating a nation of white people who would not reject any kind of work, under the umbrella of a ‘fair-go’ ethos; but I had to pull my weight and drag my trunk everywhere myself. Self-sufficiency is indeed a virtue.

At the YMCA, no one spoke to me who did not have to. I realised much later, that I may have been the very first coloured person (in the Australian language of that period, a ‘black’) to use its facilities. My shower was in a communal bathroom, but no one mentioned that I should not drop the soap.

My university campus was set in a desert; the accommodation was in retired army huts. Our food was basic, challenged by huge bush flies which sought to decorate our meal with their offspring. The winter was so cold that I eventually ended up with 9 army blankets. Yet, one night, sleeping in the open, a number of us sighted the glorious Aurora Australis. Then, for a change, we experienced a sand storm for a few days. A high wall of light sand bashed its way into all occupied quarters. Apparently the red sand ends up on the slopes of volcanoes in North Island of New Zealand

At my dining table were 2 young Australian men of European descent with educated voices – an Italian and a Yugoslav. The son of English stock, also well-educated, would occasionally speak in the Australian vernacular, but with an exaggerated back-of-throat delivery. The fourth was a ‘dinky-di’ Aussie in his speech, proud of his working-class origins. All 4 were courteous, correcting my pronunciation as appropriate (eg. steak as not in teak), and introducing me to Australian colloquialisms.

The fifth member spoke from the front of his mouth, but as if had had a large pebble in each cheek. He had a weird accent, reflecting the social ambitions of his Irish antecedents. His demeanour suggested that he had been a boarder at school, and whose teachers had included catarrh-ridden Englishmen. I have met many Australians, in senior positions of course, who had copied the accents of such teachers.

During a casual conversation on colonialism, when I made my position clear – but quietly – this chap suddenly burst out with “That nigger Gandhi should be shot.” I suspected that he had been influenced by Churchill, who had previously described Gandhi as ‘that nigger,’ That outburst explained his earlier questions to me, such as, ”Do you sit at tables on chairs?” He was my first racist. That was a new experience for me. But one does not respond to ignorant yobbos.

In the normality of existence, a weirdo can enliven the scene, can it not?

 

EARLY MEMORIES: The formation of character

An attribute of old age would seem to be to reminisce; to call up what memories are available at the end of one’s life. There is, of course, the risk of an apparent memory not being one of an event, of an occurrence; but, rather, a memory created to reflect what had been told as having happened.

At age 65, I discovered such a memory. And that was because, as one of my relatives said, I must have “a memory like an elephant” (in response to my first memoir). But then, Ganesha (or Pilleyar), the Hindu deity with the elephant head, is my favourite guide – as the god of learning.

My earliest memory is of me pulling my baby sister, 2 years younger and clad in a nappy and a singlet, down a rough concrete corridor in our home, calling out “choo, choo,” while she chuckled loudly. Our early bonding has lasted, in spite of an extended separation by sea over many decades.

Then, at age 4, I was dropped off one morning at a local vernacular (Tamil) school. During the official break, I walked home, about a quarter of a mile away. I told my mother that I would not be going back, because the teacher had been rude to me. In the parlance of modern Australia, that was an intimation of a personality who would ‘take no shit’ from anyone; and that he could find his own way. My character was clearly being formed.

At age 5 and 6, I was one of a carload of little children taken to a bigger Tamil school about 4 miles away. Whenever we were delivered late (by about 5 minutes or so, my teacher would cane me; 2 cuts on my writing hand! Thus was planted my lifelong pre-occupation with justice.

A few years later, I noticed that Joseph, my neighbour, frequently received 2 cuts on his bare buttocks at his Catholic school. Is there something about the bottoms of boys which attracts celibate teachers and priests?

At age 7, I joined a government school. The teaching was in English. There I learnt potato printing, and basket weaving; and participated in an exercise regime daily. I received a sound education, topped my class each term (except once). School hours were only half a day, the facilities being shared with another school for the other half of the day.

My no. 1 uncle gave me a little soccer ball at the end of my first year at that school, promising me a bigger ball each year I topped my class. With my new ball each year, a number of boys of about the same age (a few a little older or younger) and I played every evening on a field in front of my home. Since we played with bare feet (who could afford a second pair of shoes?), extracting thorns in my feet was a daily task.

Self-sufficiency was thus being ingrained in me.

‘Pithy Perspectives’ – bicultural fiction

While I was writing my 4 non-fiction books, which were intended to ‘contribute to building a bridge from where I came to where I am’ (as suggested by the spirit world), I decided to learn to write fiction. After a time, I put together the best of my experimental writing which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be bi-cultural in approach. Two avid but critical readers, who had influenced my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out,’ encouraged publication.

REVIEW in Writers Voice, June 2112

I recently had the chance to read ‘Pithy Perspectives’ by Raja Arasa Ratnam.

Raja has lived a most interesting life and proved to be a very valuable addition to Australia since he arrived here over six decades ago. His time here spans the period from White Australia to the Multicultural Australia of today. Raja is 82 years old and lived for four years under the Japanese Military. He has held a variety of leadership positions during his residence of more than 60 years in Australia, Raja has tried to impart some of the wisdom he has gathered over the years to you, the reader. Details for some of Raja’s work can be seen on our FAW Bookshelf.

This in an interesting book of 20 or more short stories to really engage the mind. Each story actually has a good opening and dramatic ending.  The stories have a wide ranging background; crazy, frightening, weird, some really lovely, some making fun of human ambitions, and cross-cultural issues.

The last story is really quite intriguing – it is so different –  and will have you feeling really wonderful. I say no more.

It is a very clever book –  a real smorgasbord for the reader – one to sit back and really enjoy. Raja Ratnam is one writer who relishes his craft and has a special ability to impart his knowledge and experiences in written form in an enjoyable way.

The book is available as an EBook in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.  Keep a lookout for Raja’s latest book also, ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’  Trevar Langlands, State President (NSW), Fellowship of Australian Writers Inc.

Review by US Review of Books

reviewed by Maria A. Hughes

“Memory is not a function of age but of significance.”

Ratnam conveys his insight into multiculturalism, human psychology, spirituality, what it means to be human, and the unknown in this collection of bite-sized, esoteric short stories. The reader is not bogged down by heavy-handed philosophical or religious quandaries. Ratnam’s stories are peppered with various forms of intelligent life, including djinns and sentient animals, lending a mythological bent to reality. They especially lend themselves to fans of science fiction, the fantastical, or even the odd.

There are stories that speak to the frailty and limitations of the human spirit while others are of curiosity and redemption. Some are full of hilarity as they jest over the human condition while others are frightening. The stories are whimsical, engaging, unpredictable, a little weird, highly imaginative, and will appeal to a wide audience. They often end on an unexpected, dramatic note, keeping the reader at guessing the outcome.

The last story, “Of Mice and Morality,” is perhaps Ratnam’s best piece. It is captivating, thought-provoking, poetic, and will leave the reader feeling inspired by the end of it. The author has truly written a smorgasbord of stories which will appeal to a wide array of people. Pithy Perspectives is perfect for the person who desires to read something that is intellectually stimulating but at the same time entertaining, easy to understand, and short enough that the book can be read and enjoyed in snippets.

Review of ‘Pithy Perspectives’ on YouTube

This truly is a smorgasbord of short stories. With 21 wonderful short stories to choose from, I decided to skip about and read in no particular order- simply because I could due to the way the author crafted this book.

‘Grounded’ quickly became an early favorite as I liked the interaction of the characters but dear Rueben in ‘The Boat People’ reminded me much of the delightfully browbeaten Richard in Keeping Up Appearances on PBS.

‘Nothing Fishy at the Seaside’ was another story that stood out as I liked the idea of the story and it made my brain work double time.

The last story, ‘Of Mice and Morality,’ was captivating, thought-provoking, poetic, and left me feeling inspired by the end of it.

After much debating, I find choosing a favorite from these delightful gems is a task that is far more difficult than it seems. While they are stand-alone stories, they flow nicely together when read one after the other.

The author managed to take an eclectic mix of stories and create a book that one can read a little at a time or in one sitting with the same outcome – a true pleasure to read. The stories are engaging, unpredictable, a little weird, highly imaginative, and will appeal to a wide audience.

If you appreciate exceptional short fiction like I do I’m sure you’ll enjoy this 5 star collection. It’s available on Kindle at a very affordable price.

Review by William Potter of Independent Author Network