March 25, 2012

Scrymgour's Bad Language

I don't mention it much here, but I've been doing occasional bits of writing elsewhere on the net. Mostly, for the language blog on Crikey, Fully (sic). (You can see my contributions here).

Last week I got a piece published by another website, New Matilda, which is quite a well-regarded independent news and analysis website. I was very pleased that New Matilda published my article. It's a reflection on Marion Scrymgour's time in politics, in particular with the role she played in canning bilingual education after a 34 year history in the NT. You can read my piece here.

I was inspired to write it because ABC News in Darwin ran a story about Marion leaving politics and discussed her legacy. Except they didn't mention a thing about her introducing one of the most ridiculous policies I've ever seen - the "Compulsory Teaching In English For The First Four Hours" policy. I'm glad my article was published to counter the glossier stories that came out about Marion.

The day after my article was published, Scrymgour appeared on 7:30NT and talked quite candidly about her time in politics and this time the ABC did bring up the bilingual education issue. Marion was quite frank, talked about her regrets and seemed somewhat apologetic about the whole affair. However, reading the transcript her ideas still seem muddled and she falls short of acknowledging that the policy she introduced wasn't a good one. Here's part of the interview:

7:30NT: You’ve said education is the key to delivering change in Indigenous communities and closing the gap, but you were in charge of education in the Territory in 2008. Do you concede that perhaps you played a part in the failure to deliver any change for Indigenous education?
Marion Scrymgour: Yeah, look, I… I… one of the biggest things, Louisa, and I-… one of the biggest regrets that I have is the way in which I communicated, at the time when I was the minister, the whole issue of bilingual in the Northern Territory. Now, it was never my intention – never – to remove Aboriginal languages from being used a tool for the instruction for English but I think that many people had misinterpreted that and I didn’t help that by communicating and saying that Aboriginal people shall only speak English for the first four hours which wasn’t true. Um, so do I have regrets? I certainly do, I think that, you know, in that instance it could have been done better and if I had my time over I probably would do it differently, however I don’t retreat from the fact that we-, that I thought that the debate we were having about languages was a red herring. That kids have got to get to school – that’s the big issue is the attendance.
I suppose it's easier to be honest when you are retiring and have less at stake. Pity that NT Labor and NT DET are still sticking by Marion's policy. God knows why. As you can see in the New Matilda article, it's been getting torn to shreds for 4 years now and has brought nothing positive.

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