BOOK REVIEWS

Contents 

(Click on the title to be taken to the review, or reviewer's name for biodata, or simply scroll down the page)

How Not to be a Hypocrite by Adam Swift - Reviewer Rosie Harrison

The Language Report edited by Susie Dent - Reviewer Sep Meyer

The Good, The Bad, The Funny by Adamai Philotunus - Reviewer Terry Goodwin

Foundations of Language by Ray Jackendoff - Reviewer Joe Sinclair

The Anger Alphabet by Tina Rae and Karen Summers - Reviewer Mark Edwards

The Oxford Dictionary of Euphemisms by R.W. Holder - Reviewer Sep Meyer

Helping Children With Autism Learn by Bryna Siegal - Reviewer Mark Edwards

 

 

How not to be a Hypocrite by Adam Swift.   Routledge,  2003,   ISBN 0-415-31117-9:   204 pages.   Price 9.99

Did you ever see the Star Trek film where Spock dies? He sacrifices his life to save his shipmates from destruction. And his dying words are 'the good of the many, outweighs the good of the one or the few". Swift would be proud of him because that is essentially the book's message.

The book itself is not so much about schools as about the kind of ideal society that would ensure equality of opportunity. Swift happens to apply his arguments to the parental selection of schools but they would apply to everything from housing to transport to hospital.

Swift envisages a society where the guiding principle is equality of opportunity and he argues that the very existence of private schools and selective comprehensives creates differentials that leave children at state schools at a disadvantage and that that is unfair.  His chosen solution would be a single all encompassing comprehensive system.

Although the current system allows opting out of the local comprehensive, Swift argues that it is morally deficient to do so.  The responsibility of parents is to give their child a fair chance - not to try for the best education, or even a better one - but the same chance as everyone else.

The only permissible grounds for opting out are if your local comprehensive is inadequate. The only definition of inadequacy is that your child gets a worse than average education or is disturbed by bullying or boredom to the point that behavioural problems appear.  If it sounds harsh, it is!

More interesting are the assumptions that underpin these views and the evidence for them.  Swift tends to use metaphors to illustrate his points.  For example it is morally acceptable to read bedtime stories to your children - but not to kill off their opponents for the role of cheerleader! - rather than facts and figures.  (And if you are in doubt, trying to obtain a "better" education for your child by buying it or moving house is on the minus side of the equation.)

I had difficulty with the evidence. On the one hand he uses the statistics that 7 per cent of children are educated privately but occupy 20 per cent of university places, and the fact that 75 per cent of children at private school get at least 5 A* to C GCSEs, while only 50 per cent of comprehensive people do, to prove that state education is worse than private education.

There is a similar disparity when he talks about peer effects - adding a few less gifted children to a class of gifted children brings the minority up. But oddly enough the peer effects of 93 per cent less gifted children on the behaviour of the 7 percent brighter students do not bring them down - in spite of the fact that psychologically the same majority / minority group systems are at work. He further muddies the water elsewhere by saying even if the performance of the 7 per cent comes down - just being there is making education better for the 93 per cent. So tough luck, 7 percent.  Hmmm . . .

What is really odd to me is that he seems to be trying to equalise opportunity at the under 18s - for the purpose of giving them a fair chance to go to a better university!  Nothing is said about the overall social context and the fact that many children cannot afford to continue education - which in part accounts for the disparity in the university figures. And there is no mention of the Open University (now in the top five for excellence in teaching) which is surely equal opportunity in practice and could potentially be used as a model for earlier years.

If Mr Swift wants to be radical - rather than create a one size fits all education system and force everyone into it - why not look at it from the standpoint of the child?  Not every child is academically minded, much less academically gifted.  Not every child wants to stay at school to age16,  never mind going on to further education. And what about his underlying assumption that the only good jobs are those that need a university education. Where are the plumbers the cabinetmakers the arts and crafts people in this ideal society?

If Mr Swift really want to give children a fair chance then that is where he should start - any sympathy I had with the book or the author went out the window when he talked about being ready to bus children to other schools to equalise opportunity for all. Children are not pieces on a chessboard; they are as subject to stresses and strains as are adults.  Long, enforced commutes out of their community, coupled with long school days and longer evenings doing homework would be illegal under EEC Working Time Directives.

You probably guessed by now that this is a very personal review - and that I was extremely dubious about the underlying principles. The real question is does it do what it sets out to do? Does it help you make a decision about which school to send your child to? And I have to say yes, but only if you agree with the basic premise that that the opting out 7 per cent means that the remaining 93 per cent get a poorer education.  If you don't agree with this premise then you are, according to Swift, wrong!

I don't agree with the basic premise and it failed to convince me that a compulsory comprehensive system was the best way forward. And for me this was a major change! As the daughter of an active trade unionist I went to the local comprehensive - and I didn't go to university. I have always believed that private schools were elitist and I would have voted for Swift's rules without a second thought.

Having read the book I would not, now, vote for abolition and I would vote for the right to opt out. Unlike Swift, I do believe that the comprehensives do a good job - even an excellent job of teaching those who want to learn. The schools' success rates are distorted by the number of children who are ill equipped to learn and those that want to be elsewhere.  His arguments about community and peer effects do not hold water. Children within comprehensives are streamed into sets for academic studies and the social structure is a microcosm of society - it is not one big happy community exhibiting solidarity.

And for the record, my son went to our local comprehensive three miles away and my daughter went to the local grammar school two miles away. Both schools were selected by the children after touring the local comp and the four grammar schools within a 40 minute drive. My son elected to stay with his friends, my daughter elected for the grammar school on the grounds that it was smaller and calmer.

According to Swift I should feel guilty that my daughter went to grammar school but I don't and the book has not made me change my mind.

So the big question - should you read this book?

Yes you should.

These are important and fundamental questions that you need to think about. The book is not an easy read and is very convoluted at times. He uses so many perspectives that it is easy to lose track of where a particular section is heading.  And there are surprises - for example there are times (not many) when it is acceptable to move house to get a better education for your child! At the very least your logic circuits will get a good exercise.

For an alternative viewpoint read Will Hutton at

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,920018,00.html

For an interesting online debate go to http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000658.html

Or you could check out the author himself at

http://www.politics.ox.ac.uk/about/stafflist.asp?action=show&person=92

Rosie Harrison

 

The Language Report  edited by Susie Dent.   Oxford University Press,  2003,   H/B 151 pages.         ISBN 0-19-860860-8:     Price 9.99

Devoted viewers of the UK's television word quiz Countdown will surely have spotted the increasing frequency of presenter Richard Whiteleys senior moments.  They may also have noticed his apparently deteriorating hearing.  They will certainly have observed the inane attempts by his assistant Carol Vorderman to divert attention from Mr Whiteleys faux pas, as well as the extent of her failures to match the mathematical ability of recent contestants. 

So it is with reassuring regularity that Susie Dent, in Dictionary Corner continues to sparkle, both in appearance and ability; and it was with singular pleasure that I received for review this publication from the Oxford University Press that she has edited, which combines so pleasurably the erudition and gentle humour she displays on Countdown.

For anyone with the slightest love of language and linguistical ephemera, this slim volume is a "must-have" and will provide hours of pleasurable and profitable reading.  It is not merely a dictionary of terms recently entered into everyday usage, such as slang, technospeak, idioms and street talk, but ties those terms into their derivation in recent events, such as the Gulf Wars, the development of text messaging, the plethora of scandals associated with the British royal family . . .

I'm now trying to resist the temptation to quote whole chunks from the book, because every page that I turn reveals something new, amusing, interesting, scandalous or didactic.  And I wouldn't want to spoil your pleasure of discovery.  So I'll content myself with a few simple examples of how she has arranged the book.

From chapter one: A Hundred Years of New Words, Ms Dent goes on to words "in the news" (seek the derivation and meaning yourselves of "cuddle puddle" and "hatstand").   Then comes WAN 2 TLK TXT?  - which is self-explanatory, unless you've never encountered a cellphone.  Subsequent chapters include "catwalk-speak", "cyberspeak", "battlespeak" "business speak" and "sporting speak" [not necessarily in those terms].  Then comes a selection of "Quotes of the Century".  Later there are some wicked comments on personalities from show business, politics, etc. in the chapter I'm a Celebrity - Get me in the Dictionary".

And much, much more.  Indeed, after reading the book, you find yourself wondering how it was possible to put so much information with so much amusing comment into a volume small enough to fit into an inside breast pocket, or the smallest of handbags.

And, for me, the icing on the cake is that it was edited by the delectable Susie Dent whose appearance on Countdown will now give me even greater pleasure.

This review has appeared too late for Christmas 1993, but do rush out and buy a copy for those people you forgot to give a Christmas present to this year.  And even for those you did!

Sep Meyer

 

 

The Good, The Bad, The Funny by Adomai Philotunus.   Published by The Mouse That Spins,  2002,   P/B: 300 pages.         ISBN 0-904311-10-4.     Price: paperback 16, (Ebook 3.00 - check it out on the internet at www.occultebooks.com)

There are innumerable products, people and passions about which it is common to hear the expression: You either love them or you hate them" .  One of my favourites is the Citroen car, which has maintained certain quirky characteristics from its earliest days to the present time.  A simple example is the non-correcting indicator stalk.  You loved it, or you hated it.  But regardless of which category you chose, you could not fail to admit that it was quirky. 

A similar statement could be made about this book.  Quirky in the extreme; starting with the author's nom-de-plume (which he ascribes to Ramsey Dukes - who wrote an article on science and magic  in Nurturing Potential's Issue No.2 - and which is itself conceivably a pseudonym).   I loved it.  You may hate it.

But regardless of the quirkiness of the writing, I defy anyone to fail to be intrigued by the basic concept.  The author kicks off from the premise of Duality, which he describes as "a driving force behind intolerance, prejudice, domestic strife, social turmoil and world conflict".  Nothing new about this, you might think.  Without the duality of good and evil, right and wrong, God and Satan, positive and negative, right wing and left wing, and the myriad other examples of polarisation, there would be little or no impetus towards disagreements and conflicts.

Where the author moves onto new ground is in his suggested alternative to Duality.  Traditionally opponents of Duality have tended to seek a solution in Unity.  But Dukes maintains that this is simply to replace one duality with another: Unity/Duality.  His solution is to move in the opposite direction: away from oneness, and towards triadism.  He proposes that instead of thinking in twos, we think in threes.  

This is not the Hegelian Triad of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, but a trinity of three balanced and equal positions as represented by a horizontal equilateral triangle.  The third position would be that of the "joker in the pack".  Thus the God/Devil duality that is basic to the Christian religion would be replaced by God/Devil/Trickster.

It is at this point that "quirks" appear as Dukes searches for examples to illustrate his thesis.  And this is where he may infuriate some of his readers, who might regard the book's amplitude of philosophical and intellectual argument as sufficiently rewarding without its digression into such discussion as  the trinities of sexual organs.  Here the author describes the female trinity as being formed by the two breasts above and the vagina beneath; the male trinity forms a triangle in the opposite direction: the testicles at its base and the erect member at its apex.   I was amused by this: an example of Adomai Philotunus (a.k.a. Ramsey Dukes) at his most quirky.  You may be merely bored.

But whether amused or bored, there is a wealth of other material in the book that you will find both thought-provoking and intellectually rewarding, as Dukes goes to substantial length (in some cases outrageously obscure lengths) to prove or expand his thesis.  Amongst his triadic examples: Religion (God/Devil/Trickster); Sex (Man/Woman/Child); Emotions (Love/Hate/Indifference); Class: (Money/Breeding/Education).

That last example is, to my mind, one of the more amusingly inventive sections of his book as he demonstrates how Education is the Trickster of the class system, "standing outside the class system and yet running the whole game" and "bursting the balloon of rising wealth".  

"The proud industrialist, who has earned his brass from muck, sends his children to Eton or Roedean, where they learn to laugh at social climbers and the work ethic.  The hydrogen of wealth begins to leak as the champagne corks pop and the Trickster plays a merry jig . . . " 

This review has only scratched the surface of this remarkable book.  Do read it.  In the terms of Dukes's emotional trilogy, you may love it, you may hate it, but I doubt that you will be indifferent to it.

Terry Goodwin

 

 

Foundations of Language by Ray Jackendoff.  Published by OUP.  493 pages.  First published 2002.  Paperback edition 2003.  ISBN 0-19-926437-6.  P/B price 17.50

Back in the 1960s when, despite the advent of the Beatles and the Liverpool sound, Frank Sinatra was still in his prime, the question used to be posed:  How will anyone ever replace Frank Sinatra, unless they sing like Frank Sinatra?   It was not a question that was ever asked of his crooning predecessors: Rudy Vallee or  Bing Crosby.  And, indeed, despite the plethora of ballade singers who were (the later) Sinatra's contemporaries, such as Tony Bennett, Perry Como and Mel Torme, none has ever succeeded in supplanting Sinatra's reputation.  It wasn't simply his extraordinary phrasing and pitch, so perfectly adapted to his medium, it was also his physical and verbal charisma.

Do I hear readers asking: "So what has that to do with language?"  Well, for my money, Noam Chomsky was the Frank Sinatra of linguistics.  He was (is!) my linguistical hero.  And how could anyone replace him unless it be another Chomsky?  I have news for me . . . if not for you:  Jackendoff has thrown his hat well and truly  into the ring.

Jackendoff, who is Professor of Linguistics at Brandeis University and President of the Linguistic Society of America, has set himself the task of exploring the theory and substance of Noam Chomsky's work and reinterpreting his theory of universal grammar.  He has not been so impetuous as to reject Chomsky's ideas, but rather he has tried to propose his own theory as a natural development from Chomsky.

The types of issue that he explores in his book were outlined by him, in another context, in his talk to a conference in Cambridge in November 2003 on the structure of language.  His concern is with "three pillars of modern linguistics": mentalism (the location of language in the minds of those speaking it), combinatoriality (the rules of grammar), and inner resources for language learning (the connections between language and biology).

The book itself begins with a survey of generative linguistics since 1965, i.e. since the publication of Chomsky's Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, and reviews the developments of the past thirty-five years.  His aim is to integrate the theory of generative grammar into the cognitive sciences.  He takes issue with the assumption  that syntax is the sole course of the rules of grammar and proposes a "parallel architecture" in which phonology, syntax, and semantics are autonomous generative systems, linked by interface components.

There is nothing new or original in this approach; many linguists have argued that the syntactic structure of a sentence somehow derives from its meaning.  This more or less challenges Chomsky's view of language as being separate from the rest of the human cognitive apparatus.  But while Jackendoff basically agrees here with Chomsky, he nevertheless questions Chomsky's idea of how the language faculty is organised.  In particular, he is concerned with the psychological and neurological considerations of how linguistic items are stored or memorised, and what relationships can exist between one stored item and another.

This is not a book for readers with no prior knowledge or background in linguistics, even though Jackendoff has made every effort to construct bridges between linguistics, cognitive science and psychology.  But the book is a must for anyone who is seriously interested in the state of development of language.

And it will be interesting to see how Jackendoff continues to develop his ideas, and how far his own "phraseology and pitch" will be recognised as a benchmark in the future.

Joe Sinclair

 

The Anger Alphabet by Tina Rae and Karen Summers.   18.00.     ISBN 1 873 942 69 9.  Lucky Duck Publishing. 

I have a dream. One day, in the hopefully not too distant future, the Government will realise that they have been barking up the wrong tree, mainly as a result of not seeing the wood for the trees. They will have abandoned their current strategy of appointing legions of behaviour experts and the setting up of referral units. Instead they will have accepted the need to look at the root causes of problem behaviour.

With this in mind, the routing of the behaviour consultants will have begun, and instead, we will see emotional literacy consultants in every school. Their brief will be to teach children how to manage the powerful and often negative emotions that arise from living in an increasingly fractured society that has lost its soul and its spirit in the relentless pursuit of material gain. They will have been trained in the art of managing relationships and will know what makes children tick. They will have been classroom teachers, and children will relate to them well.

They will carry with them a number of books, which will provide a resource for them to use in their training programmes in the schools they work in. One of these is likely to be very well-thumbed. It is The Anger Alphabet by Tina Rae and Karen Simmons. It is based on a disarmingly simple concept - each letter of the alphabet deals with an aspect of anger management, which means that there are 26 sessions which follow a structured format in which children can discuss, reflect, draw and write. Most importantly, it provides them with strategies for coping.

In my experience as a teacher, children respond well to clear, structured lessons and this is particularly needed when dealing in the murky and unpredictable world of the emotions. The book is aimed at 6-11s - there is a slight inconsistency in that the recommended follow up books are very definitely Key Stage One (The Bad Tempered Ladybird) ;  the worksheets however seem more orientated to older children. It would have been useful to list some reading for older children - books by Jacqueline Wilson and Anne Fine, for example.

Still, all in all, another excellent addition to the Lucky Duck stable and one that can be easily utilised by the busy but sensitive primary school teacher. As for dreaming - lets hope the Government wakes up soon!

  Mark Edwards

 

 

The Oxford Dictionary of Euphemisms by R.W. Holder.   2003,   P/B: 524 pages.   ISBN 0-19-860762-8.     Price: 7.99.  Published in the Oxford Paperback Reference series. 

The subtitle really says it all: How Not To Say What You Mean.

Online issue No. 9 of Nurturing Potential featured an article on language entitled Having Fun With Words.  It did not, surprisingly, include euphemisms.  What an opportunity lost!

Never mind.  Readers of Nurturing Potential need not feel deprived because for a mere 7.99 they can purchase this wonderful little book that will provide hours of fun and knowledge.  Little, did I say?  Well it may appear little in size, but it is vast in content with over 500 pages.

The book is actually an old favourite that has been revised, expanded, and published in paperback form.  It was always a book that would shock your old auntie.  The latest edition is as shocking as ever. [A]

So what in essence is a euphemism?  Well, to quote the publishers own on-line dictionary, it is a figure of speech in which an offensive, harsh, or blunt word or expression is avoided and one that is milder but less precise or accurate is used instead.[1]  Winston Churchill, in a speech in Cardiff on February 8, 1950, said You must not use the word poor.  They are described as the lower income group 

Barry Humphries, the Australian comedian, is reputed to have referred to Those extraordinary Australian euphemisms for vomiting parking the tiger, yodelling on the lawn, the technicolour yawn, the liquid laugh.  I couldnt find any of these in Holder, but that may be because he has tended to concentrate on British and American euphemisms, and they are no great loss amongst the many thousands of entries he has provided, particularly since it enabled me to use them here!

So, if you are looking for some way to insult, shock or deceive, without using blatantly dubious language, this is the book for you.  If you enjoy browsing books that include gems of humorous evasion, look no further than this volume.  If youre looking for a new addition to the bookshelf in the visitors loo[2], this will fill the spot admirably; the only problem being to get the visitor out again.

And if you want to discover everything you ever wanted to know about hot-tailing[3] but didnt know where to look . . .

Well . . . now you know.

 


 

[ 1] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on CD Rom. 

[2] And theres another euphemism.

[3] Sexual promiscuity.

[A] A wonderful poetic example of euphemisms was produced by that most prolific of poets, Anon, under the title Ode To Those Four Letter Words.  Here is the first verse:

Banish the use of those four-letter words

Whose meanings are never obscure.

The Angles and Saxons, those bawdy old birds,

Were vulgar, obscene and impure.

But cherish the use of the weak-kneed phrase

That never quite says what you mean;

For better you stick to your hypocrite ways

Than be vulgar, or coarse, or obscene.

The poem runs to another seven stanzas and may be viewed here.  But a word of warning - as they announce on the TV - it contains adult material.  You have been warned.  [Ed.]

Sep Meyer

 

 

 

Helping Children With Autism Learn Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals

by Bryna Siegal PhD.     Oxford University Press, Hardback 498 pages. 

ISBN 0-19-513811-2.   Price 14.99

There is no one right answer proclaims Dr Bryna Siegal at the start of this book. Its an encouraging introduction to a very comprehensive work on autism by an authoritative and, according to the jacket blurb, highly experienced Professor of Psychiatry.

Growing numbers of children are being diagnosed with autism, or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in the UK (and there is of course a controversial issue around its link with MMR, the triple vaccination given to very young children).  So the appearance of this book is timely.

Whats refreshing is its open-minded approach to a complex subject. I have attended training sessions for teachers and read one or two articles on the subject and have sometimes been very worried by the statements such as ASD children dont like their pencil cases being the wrong way round. (DfE publication, Teacher 2001) These statements are over-simplistic, misleading and blatantly untrue in some cases ; as Siegal says each child is educationally and biologically unique and will need something slightly different.

The book is divided into three parts : firstly, there is a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of autistic learning styles. Siegal describes the possible origins of  ASD, and examines in depth the genetic risk involved, drawing on all the research available. She moves on to an examination of the developmental processes that suggest an atypical child. Again, Siegal is at pains to point out the diversity of symptons and makes it clear that these should be the focus of attention. But she also makes it clear that there are common themes for example, nearly all ASD children are fascinated by Thomas The Tank Engine. Siegal reproduces a number of charts which usefully delineate the territory we inhabit when we embark on the diagnosis of autism. She draws a nice analogy with water flowing down a hill toward a lake when water encounters obstacles rocks for example -it flows round them and is even diverted, but it eventually gets there.

The second and third sections of the book deal with  the specific learning disabilities of ASD children, treatments and a suggested teaching approach for such children. The book is really comprehensive in this final section too it would seem to me, as a mainstream teacher, that no stone of the ASD rockery has been left unturned. Whilst this is laudable, it is also a possible weakness of the book as a practical guide for parents and teachers. I cant argue with the underlying child-centred premise or the sheer scope and originality of the book, but equally I cant see many teachers having the time or inclination to wade through it. Parents of ASD children, however, will find it invaluable and possibly inspirational.

That it is unlikely to be an attractive buy for schools, solely for this reason, is a pity. Maybe an enterprising publisher could reprint it as a series of booklets. Its too good to be left to moulder on an office shelf.

Mark Edwards

 


 

Reviewers' Biodata

Rosie Harrison is an ex Systems Analyst, Strategic Risk Manager and trainer, and corporate business manager.   Currently she is working as a life coach, mentor and professional kinesiologist. She is also in training as a Tai Chi teacher.  Her website will be found at http://www.everyday-taichi.com

Joe Sinclair is a writer, editor, publisher, and non-executive director of a shipping line - amongst other activities - one of which is the publishing of Nurturing Potential. His personal website will be found at http://www.pinoman.co.uk

Terry Goodwin was a senior marketing executive at Finexport Ltd in London and Bangkok until his retirement in 1992, since when he has been in private practice as a marketing consultant.

Sep Meyer is a graduate of the London School of Economics and, since his retirement from a commercial life, has been devoting his time to a totally non-commercial activity, writing poetry and drama. 

Mark Edwards was a head teacher, who still teaches part-time but combines this with writing articles, educational consultancy and entertaining people who like to hear badly performed rock, pop and music hall classics.

 

 

BACK