“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?’

 

 

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Why produce children?

We are not a third-world nation. In some under-developed or ‘emerging’ nations (even those ‘screwed’ by neo-colonialism), is there reliable evidence of harm to children perpetrated by their parents? Or, are children there more likely to be put to work as soon as possible? I have read about children digging for diamonds, sewing soccer balls, weaving carpets, scavenging on rubbish tips, or working on family farms.

Even in those countries without priests urging a continuous production of babies, contraceptive practice may not be known; or contraceptive aids are beyond their reach. Worse still, Western nations offering financial aid to developing, poor nations will not subsidise contraception in these nations; something to do with Christian principles?

In Australia, we do not put children to work. They are to be looked after, and educated – even if some are likely to be economically unviable after leaving school. But, our key politicians, led by a shopkeeper mentality, want mothers to go to work outside the home. Why? It adds to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Babies and little children are to be brought up in childcare centres. The rise in employment in these centres also adds to GDP. Economics thus out-ranks psychic satisfaction today. Sorry! I should say wealth-creation, a modern mantra; not economics.

‘Keeping up with the Jones family’ (a not-so-archaic ambition) also leads to 2-income families. The resulting pressures have now led to demands for after-hours care for children. And I thought that institutional upbringing of children is to be found only in countries with ‘command’ economies.

Then, because childcare is so expensive, taxpayer subsidies are needed. Everyone is richer, except those taxpayers who benefit not from this subsidy. Are those little children in 2-income families who spend their day in childcare as well off emotionally as those children who interact hugely with their home-based mothers?

With no priestly demands, and the easy availability of contraception, is there a case for fewer children from 2-income families? Should we ask those children who have limited contact with their mothers for most of the day? Isn’t psychic wealth more valuable than any other kind of wealth?

 

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?

 

 

 

EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (3)

Ranked high in this collection is my Indian drinking mate. Tall, erudite, and wearing a cracked lens in his glasses, he was a natural leader. My other drinking mate was the gentle-giant mountain-climbing Austrian. We had some interesting discussions.

I remember standing up to the Austrian at about 2 am at the International Conference set in a small township. He had advised me to keep away from his mountaineering girl friend. With my nose at about his chest level, I threatened to hit him, as she was a friend of mine too. His advice came after he had seen me protecting the girl’s right breast during a post-prandial talk-fest. The next morning, as he left to do some shopping, he agreed to buy me a bottle of brandy for the evening – a true friend. Youth can be forgiving.

Back in town, at about 10pm one night, a Malayan friend rang me in great consternation. During an encounter of joy with his landlady, his sheath had become torn. “How” I asked. A “corkscrew manoeuvre” he replied. “Run for the hills” was the only advice I could offer.

In the guest-house I lived in there arrived a young Dutchman from Indonesia, which had just gained independence. He always wore a cravat. I noted that he sought my company. Indeed, I seemed to attract European immigrants. Did they somehow feel my interest in their background, and in what they might have to say?

Amongst these was a sad Yugoslav ex-soldier who had been separated from his family by the war, and never heard of them again. An educated Greek, who had escaped the takeover of his nation by the ‘colonels’ (I believe that is how they were described) and the Yugoslav were employed as filing clerks where I worked.

An escapee from Col.Nasser in Egypt (I came to know well a number of these escapees) cleverly became wealthy in Australia; but was then jailed. When in jail, he was reliably described to me as “living like a king.” On release, he then joined his wife in the UK “in her castle” (so reported the media).

Then, once a week for about a year, I spent an hour absorbing the knowledge of a learned anthropologist, who had escaped the Nazis in time. He couldn’t get a university position (so it was said) because he had not studied the Aborigines. He was an erudite man, who widened my perspective on psychology to take in anthropology.

My interest in physiological psychology was raised by a lecturer who seemed to spend all his spare time writing political letters to the press – which kept him in the public eye. I disliked him because he denied me an honours pass that year “because you are only a pass student.” I was studying full-time (at the expense of my sleep) while also working full-time; and the head of the psychology department was encouraging me to work for an academic career in his discipline.

 

EARLY MEMORIES: A smorgasbord of characters (2)

On board a small ship travelling from Singapore to Fremantle, my second-class fellow-passengers included ex-servicemen from 3 nations. The oldest was an Australian, one of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces sent to Japan after its surrender. He had remained in Japan after the withdrawal of these Forces because he had married a Japanese woman. As he was not allowed to take his wife back with him, he stayed – working on the family farm.

One of his stories was how the locals came to admire his chest of greying hairs when he worked shirt-less. He was a big man. Since a number of Japanese wives had settled successfully in Australia (indeed, reportedly they had been readily accepted), the Aussie was returning home to plead his case. We wished him success.

He confirmed to me what I had read earlier; that some Aussie troops, on arrival in Japan with the BCOF, had raped women and otherwise attacked other civilians. They, reportedly, saw themselves as retaliating for the deaths in battle of their relatives!

Two of my fellow-passengers were ex-National Servicemen from France. They had fought in the war of independence in Algeria; and had not liked being shot at. They were of my age, and looking forward to a peaceful life (as I was) in Australia. They were terribly jealous of the Englishman, also of comparable vintage; and were not amused at his claim that Malay women are more attractive than white women.

The Englishman, also an ex-National Serviceman, had been based in Malaya. He had not fought anyone, in spite of the attrition provided by communist Chinese terrorists. Subsequently, it was (General?) Templar who had driven these communists out of Malaya (to Thailand?).

What irked the Frenchmen was that the Englishman had been allowed to spend each night with his Malay girl friend in the adjacent kampong; provided he hopped back over the fence in time in the morning. Naturally, he left the Malay girl behind, then claimed that he missed her. However, by the time we reached Fremantle, he was changing his mind about white women. He may have been just a randy youth.

What I saw of the British troops guarding the train that my Aussie wife and I were on, going north from Singapore, was not encouraging. By about 10 pm, some of the soldiers were clearly drunk, and staggering about. That was in spite of the reality that, a week or so before, the communists had blown up the main track. While our train was apparently protected by some sort of vehicle preceding it, we wondered what would happen were the communists to shoot at the train after it had been stopped.

It was time for the British to protect their own troops by sending them home. They were notable characters in their own right.

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: Of how the mighty fell

The most improbable sound of explosions turned out to be bombs falling on to our air field about 3 miles away. It stopped my scratching on my violin. I was 13, and at the end of primary school. The sight of tiny planes (later identified as Japanese) flying higher than the British planes which, visibly and audibly, were unable to reach the attackers, portended the speedy takeover of British Malaya.

Strategically brilliant Japanese forces sank 2 large British ships and, side-stepping attempted defences, took over the Malayan Peninsula in a short time.

Hiding in a rubber estate to avoid any bombing or fighting, 3 young mothers and their 11 children watched the daily movement of British forces. They were moving away from the fighting, and into Singapore. From there they would seek escape. Then, one morning, much shorter men, wearing strange caps, waved back at us. The dreaded Japanese had arrived. We waved no more.

Soon, back in our homes, we saw 2 Japanese soldiers knocking on every door. Two houses away, lived a Christian Indian lady with her son and his Chinese wife. The Indian lady, like many other pro-British Christians and Eurasians, promptly destroyed the pictures of the British royal family hanging on her wall.

When the Japanese knocked on her door, she showed them the receipt given to her son by the first line of invaders when they took his bicycle, and rode off to chase the British forces (including Indians and Australians).

She then somehow communicated to the Japanese we were also her family. My mother, who had opened the door with great trepidation when the Japanese knocked, was astounded when both Japanese clicked their heels, bowed to her, smiled, and said something in Japanese – and moved on! They did not bother to look into either home. We subsequently learnt that the Japanese always gave a signed receipt when they confiscated any mode of transport. They were certainly in a hurry.

We survived the Japanese military occupation but, near the end of the war, my family (and the people in the region) were held to ransom by the Chinese communist Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army. To demonstrate their control, they killed a few dissenters, leaving their naked bodies by the roadside for all to see.

I sold an expensive sari owned by my mother through an Indian intermediary in the capital. A quarter of that money was stolen by a pick-pocket on a bus. Fortunately, I had enough left to pay the ransom.

I remain anti-communist and anti-colonial. Freedom is of paramount significance, followed by justice.