Government seeks input into nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check

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The Federal Government has called for feedback to inform the development of a new nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check.

A questionnaire on the Department for Education and Training  website is the next step in the staged implementation of the checks, announced by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham in late January.

The assessments of Year 1 students’ literacy and numeracy skills aim to identify students who are behind so they can be targeted with interventions to prevent an achievement gap from widening. It follows three significant national and international reports in 2016 that revealed Australia’s education performance had plateaued or declined.

The questionnaire will inform an Expert Advisory Panel, consisting of principals, teachers, speech specialists, academics and researchers, which will report to the Education Council in mid-2017.

It asks respondents their opinions on the potential benefits of the checks, ways of maximising their effectiveness, the challenges associated with their introduction and the use of the information gained through the checks in the classroom.

The questionnaire is open until 17 March, 2017, and any persons interested have been asked to respond.

Celebrity activism: do we really need another hero?

In Media and Society (6th ed. pp. 380–382), we discuss the pervasiveness of celebrity activism, particularly in recent times, considering social media’s ubiquity. Celebrity activists, including celanthropists (celebrity-philanthropist) and other cause endorsers and advocates locate themselves under multiple ‘issue’ banners. Some of these include humanitarianism, feminism, and political activism. Such celebrity engagement is not a new phenomenon. Now, though, it seems that connection to a cause is almost an expectation of celebrities as a method to leverage individual celebrity ‘brand(s)’. However, the explosion of celebrity activists providing opinions on various social, economic, environmental, and cultural issues, and pursuing charity and aid as self-interested pursuits can be problematic.

Critiques of celebrity activism include that it oversimplifies issues when celebrities lecture the public by assuming authority about complex matters, and that such activism tends to centre on the celebrity and their brand while diverting from substantive issues. By reflecting on some examples of celebrity activism aimed at counteracting the success of Donald Trump during the latter stages of the 2016 American Presidential campaign, we can briefly contemplate these critiques of celebrity activism in political and media landscapes.

We saw many politically motivated speeches, memes and videos by celebrities become ‘viral’ during the US election campaign. Some celebrities spoke out in the mainstream media, while many also regularly took to their social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to discuss politics. Further, they often spoke about the candidates personally – Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, in particular – in both positive and negative ways. Often, sharing opinions and having these opinions re-shared on social media amplifies the celebritisation of politics. Whether such activism achieves its intended political goals may be questioned. However, what can’t be disregarded is the way these uses of social media and celebrity attract mainstream media attention. This, therefore, reinforces the perception of celebrities as effectual activists, and the tools of social media as politically valuable ones.

One of the viral videos during the Trump campaign featured Hollywood royalty, Robert De Niro, declaring: ‘I’d like to punch [Trump] in the face’. In another of the key anti-Trump videos, celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. used humour to mock their own fame in an to attempt to encourage people to vote. Since Trump’s election, Meryl Streep, also a member of Hollywood’s elite, took the stage of the 2017 Golden Globes to accept a lifetime achievement award, and used her time to discuss Trump, without actually naming him, but drawing attention to Trump’s behaviour in imitating a disabled journalist, and how this might be indicative of his future leadership style.

Each of these instances of celebrity activism received varied reactions. De Niro’s allusion to violence was considered troublesome, the ‘shit ton’ of celebrities in the Ruffalo campaign were regarded as incompatible with everyday Americans, and Streep was rebuked for misusing and misunderstanding her privilege to allege that those in the room at the Golden Globes ‘belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now’. This last critique represents perhaps both problems raised above: the distraction of celebrity (in this case drawing attention to Streep herself), and the oversimplification of issues. Streep’s statement about the vilification of celebrities failed to recognise the distance between elite ‘outsiders’ such as celebrities and the sectors of American society less able to protect themselves from condemnation and marginalisation because of their absence of wealth, status and power. None of the celebrity activism resulted in Trump’s defeat, due to a myriad of other concerns and forces at play in democracy, although it’s worth considering what such activism that resulted in mass media attention did achieve. Does the attention it brings signal that many people feel alienated from traditional politics?

Celebrity activism, as noted, can be controversial for several reasons. However, celebrity political activists can sometimes articulate what others cannot by using their privilege to speak up and out in mainstream and online media cultures to mass audiences. Therefore, even for this reason alone, there can sometimes be a place for celebrity activism in the quest for social and political change in the current cultural climate. Celebrity activism thrives during this time of dissatisfaction with traditional politics, and it is unlikely that this will be the last election that celebrity activists take to the stage to perform supporting roles.

9780195597240Sarah Casey  works at Griffith University and is an author on the sixth edition of Media and Society (2016).

Beware the Drop Bear

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It is large and predatory, ambushing its prey from above. It targets tourists and finds Vegemite repellent. It is the mythical Australian drop bear.

‘Drop bear’ was one of 300 terms added to Oxford Dictionaries’ free online dictionary of current English.

OxfordDictionaries.com described the drop bear as, “A mythical marsupial resembling a koala, said to live in trees and attack people by dropping on to their heads from above.”

The entry includes the example of usage, “someone told him that he needed to put Vegemite behind his ears to ward off the drop bears”.

So, where did the myth of this fierce marsupial, supposedly repelled by the scent of Vegemite, come from?

According to the Australian National Dictionary Centre, in 1980 Nancy Keesing provided the first recorded mention of the drop bear. She suggested the term emerged in the Second World War period for the benefit of gullible American servicemen.

As the new entry in OxfordDictionaries.com reveals, the legend is showing no signs of fading.

Earlier this year, Tamworth Regional Council approved the idea of giving a previously unnamed road the name ‘Drop Bear Lane’, while some of Australia’s most respected cultural and environmental organisations and companies have warned tourists of the dangers of walking through forested areas where the drop bear lives.

An official page of the Australian Museum describes the drop bear, or Thylarctos plummetus as:  “a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.”

“Bush walkers have been known to be ‘dropped on’ by drop bears, resulting in injury including mainly lacerations and occasionally bites.”

The South Australian Government Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources warned travellers of the risks of the drop bear, while a National Geographic study revealed international tourists were most likely to be targeted by the ferocious marsupial.

For the full record of drop bear in Australian English, see the Second Edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Visit OxfordDictionaries.com to find out about other words in its latest update, including ‘yas’, ‘haterade’, ‘fitspo’ and ‘craptacular’.

Yarning Strong author Ali Cobby Eckermann wins one of the world’s richest literature awards

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Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand congratulates Yarning Strong: His Father’s Eyes author, Ali Cobby Eckermann, on winning one of the world’s richest literature prizes for her poetry.

The celebrated Indigenous poet and writer was one of eight recipients of the 2017 Windham-Campbell prize, who each received $215,000. The prizes were awarded to writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama.

Eckermann wrote His Father’s Eyes, part of the OUP ANZ and Laguna Bay Publishing Yarning Strong series. The Indigenous education series is aimed at young Australians aged between 10 and 14 and their teachers, introducing readers to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. A committee of Indigenous educators guided the development and content of the series, which have all been written by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors.

His Father’s Eyes touches on the themes of absence of family, life changes, loss and fear of loss, and the discovery of strength through family.

Eckermann’s writing career began in 2009 with her first collection of poetry, Little Bit Long Time. Since then, she has published three collections of poetry, verse novels Ruby Moonlight and His Father’s Eyes and memoir Too Afraid to Cry, drawing on her experience as a member of the Stolen Generation. She is also the founder of the Aboriginal Writers’ Retreat.

The Windham-Campbell prize, established in 2013, aims to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work, independent of financial concerns.

English language writers from anywhere in the world are eligible, with recipients nominated confidentially by leaders in the literary field, and judged anonymously.

His Father’s Eyes is available from Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

Oxford Word of the Month: March – Corflute

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noun: a temporary sign or poster made of corrugated plastic sheeting.

THE STORY BEHIND THE WORD OF THE MONTH

Another election and another spate of corflute crimes in Gladstone. (Gladstone Observer, 31 May 2016)

2016 was a year of elections, here and elsewhere. It was also a year in which the corflute gained extra traction in our vocabulary.

The corflute is an essential campaign tool. It is a lightweight waterproof sign, usually printed with a candidate’s image, name, and party affiliation (if any). It can be found in shopping centres as a billboard, or cable-tied to trees and fences, or attached to a stake and stuck into the ground alongside roads and highways for the attention of passing motorists.

The word corflute derives from a proprietary name for the corrugated plastic sheeting used for temporary signage, and signs made from this have been a feature of Australian campaigns for many years. However, evidence of corflute in the sense of ‘a temporary sign’ is relatively recent, and dates from about 2000. It occurs chiefly in election contexts.

An early use of the word refers to a couple of disappointed Queensland car thieves:

The thieves, trying to find something of value, had pulled out the back seat to see what was in the boot. … All it contained was two corflutes the car’s owner had souvenired from Premier Peter Beattie and Member for Woodridge Mike Kaiser’s campaigns. (Brisbane Courier-Mail, 17 July 2000)

This item points to a problem associated with the use of corflutes—the ease with which they may be stolen. It is a recurring headache for political candidates. In 2004 the Cairns Post noted that:

Cairns candidates are counting the cost of stolen election signs, with some runners out of pocket more than $500. With still four days to go until the local government polls, corflutes across the city are disappearing daily by the dozen. (24 March)

Partisan vandalism is often suspected: ‘Member for Fisher Peter Slipper released a statement yesterday accusing the LNP and its supporters of conspiring against him by stealing and destroying corflutes.’ (Sunshine Coast Daily, 31 August 2013)

More recently the overuse of campaign corflutes has been regarded as a blot on the landscape:

The Hills Shire Times wants your help to clean up our district. It’s been more than a week since the election but political advertising boards, or corflutes, are still strewn across the Hills. (Hills Shire Times, 5 April 2011)

In the 2016 ACT election voters had to choose from a record number of candidates for an expanded Legislative Assembly. This meant many more signs were put up than usual, and public tolerance was pushed to the limit. It was described as ‘a war of corflutes’ and, post-election, an outlet for public frustration was planned:

In what had been billed as ‘the first ever post-election stomping of the corflutes’, the Like Canberra party called on Canberrans to gather their ‘legally obtained surplus corflutes’ to destroy them in what would be a cathartic experience for many people. Corflute whacking party organiser … Richard Tuffin said there had been a lot of anger about the density of corflutes. (Canberra Times, 16 October 2016)

Not surprisingly, evidence for the word corflute spiked significantly in 2016. With more elections ahead, the ‘stomping of the corflutes’ may catch on.

Corflute will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

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