Useful And Fantastic: Help For The “Have-Nots’’
Val Yule suggests ideas to help the have-nots towards a life thought to be worth living.
A Korean leper in the gutter in the capital city in the spring of 1950 was alive when we passed him in the morning, and dead in the afternoon.
There were families around us in Collingwood, where we lived from 1954 to 1957, who seemed to repeatedly experience every trauma possible. In my work as a clinical child psychologist and school psychologist I repeatedly met children and families cut off from literacy by fences we have built that they cannot climb. And all these must indirectly affect the ‘haves’.
My research has sought to clarify the ways in which people are kept outside , and ways to remedy their disabilities.
As the casework secretary of the Marriage Guidance Council, I came to the conclusion that verbal therapies were not enough to reach the ‘non-verbal’, and looked at ways to reach them with other modalities, particularly through modelling, personal and through TV, video and books.
As a psychologist treating children, I collected thousands of their stories and drawings, told to me in a private situation, and these often helped me to understand their situation and feelings. I have discovered that most people do not have the shorthand skills or even perhaps the confidence of the children, to obtain more than superficial stories, so my collection has some claim to be ‘fairly unique’. One anthology was published in 1979, and a second bigger and more organised anthology is being completed. The stories tell the human situation of each child; together they show how the external world impacts on them, and forms their responses. A detailed analysis of 385 stories shows the influence of social environment and gender and how the two interact over developmental stages.
As a child I would now be diagnosed as ‘Aspergers’; I fight for such children to be regarded a part of the sociodiversity which has been important for our human progress. Our abnormalities should be treated only insofar as they handicap the individuals themselves; for example, I experimented with video taken behind one-way-screen, that could be watched later by a socially-handicapped child to see what it did to annoy others without realising it. It is society itself which must be more tolerant of the oddballs; and a contribution to everyone’s training is a book manuscript, ‘People they laughed at’.
As a child who found in reading the consolation, knowledge, excitement, curiosity, escape, inspiration and models for behaviour that so many people miss out on, I have worked to make literacy available to all, in every way possible to me, and to ensure that readers can have access to ‘the best’, according to my perception, so that at least they have the opportunities.
This has many aspects.
Schooling for the disadvantaged is more important than for the advantaged, and there are many ways to achieve this. My Dip. Ed. students took an elective as teacher aides in disadvantaged schools. Day exchanges between pairs of schools gave new perspectives to teachers and pupils – e .g Scotch College with St Josephs Primary School in Collingwood, and Preshill with North Fitzroy Primary School. An in-service course for primary school teachers gave them insight into Social Factors in Teaching the Disadvantaged, and also gave me feedback from the data they collected. As Innovations Counsellor in disadvantaged schools under the Whitlam disadvantaged schools program, it was my function to encourage schools to set up their own innovations – such as gardens, adventure playgrounds, and publishing books of children’s writing; these flourished while the teachers sponsoring them and I remained at the schools, but flagged thereafter. Thirty years on, only the Collingwood Children’s Farm remains, showing the importance of continuing local support. Three books on primary education described ways to make children’s experiences in primary school that of play that had play’s purpose – fitting them for life, in every way. Attempts to prevent teachers asking children questions all the time when the children are the ones to ask, were particularly important when children are not ‘bright’ and forthcoming. ‘Socratic quizzes’ were devised which gave room for both children and teachers to ask the questions. I continually urged that all teachers should have ‘television-presenter’ training in public speaking, so they could fascinate their pupils, and not shout or mumble.
The teaching of literacy was demonstrated ways to give every opportunity for pupils to follow the whole process at any time, so that the handicapped were not left behind nor the bright held back. A thirty-minute overview of literacy for learners failing with other methods gave private self-help aid to find their gaps and confusions themselves, or to prevent them. In contrast with the methods that they failed, they had no clerical activities, they linked all processes together whether taught to the learner yet or not, they relied on cognitive understanding, and used one simple way to teach which was watched as much as necessary, and gave insights in one-panel pages. The element of surprise was important. I have made several versions but technical expertise has been limited, undermining face validity, and differences from conventional approaches have not been appreciated by teachers. Others may achieve better, and I have sought for whole schools to make a video. An aboriginal teacher and I failed to get funding for an indigenous version.
Spelling without traps. The old idea of spelling reform is to make spelling as close to speech as possible; this has too many flaws, and ignores modern cognitive psychology on how people learn, read and spell. I experimented with different types of spelling, and learners’ reaction to them, and applied much of my psychological colleagues’ work on how people reacted to present spelling. Since the cooperation of present readers was essential, most of my research time was spent on many types of experiment on whether present readers would be disturbed by spelling that cut out surplus letters, with consistent findings that they were not to any degree. I was unable however to test out my theory that the best readers ignored the surplus letters anyway - I did. I thought that people would be willing therefore to do without the surplus letters they did not need and that hampered the handicapped so much – but my research did not make very much impression.
Early experiences. Disadvantaged children come to school without the experiences that favour school learning. Part of my work here has been promoting sung lullabies (without musical accompaniment) for babies’ introduction to language in a context of parental love – and soothing sleeplessness. In a time when disadvantaged children were kept from all pre-literacy, a Scottish University’s pre-school was willing to try ‘Learning to read through free play’, and two videos show aspects of this. All children traced later were reading within one term at school.
Children born unwanted. In 1963 I had sought to do my Psychology MA on the psychology of population, but this was not regarded then as a suitable topic. (I had to use my Marriage Counselling data instead but my aims there were not regarded as OK and I had to reuse the data some other way. An early use of casework data analysed by computer – on the Melbourne University mainframe for which I wrote the Fortran program – much the longer part of the research for me.) However I have kept up my work on Population. I have compiled tables of population growth, using the US Census Bureau data; these show the dramatic increases in population in almost every country of the world since 1950 – European included. I have designed twelve one-sheet Fact Sheets on all the factors involved in our race to extinction, to be made available for general use, since the high-level or scattered data that are available are not suitable to convince all, including interest groups for economic ‘growth’, and politicians, as well as the public at large. The Psychology of Population examines the many forces for population growth in nations, economies, political and religious organizations, local societies, and family dynamics, and the greatest factor in reducing population growth, the education of women, so that they have power and knowledge for family limitation to what the family can provide. To prevent accusations of genocide, the UN is urged to have a Convention on the Right to Reproduce – two children per couple.
Many children are still born unwanted. For many parents, their lack of care is de to ignorance about babies and childcare. This can be attacked in many ways. I prepared a book used to help parents-groups to laugh at themselves, rather that get het up and martyred. For other parents, their unwanted children are due to the parents’ own lifestyle, and help may fail. Society pays a high price in rewarding them for having babies and large families, with the large number of children it must sustain in its welfare and justice system, on all the factors involved in our race to extinction, as well as the international ramifications of the example Western pronatal policies have on other countries.
Social innovation. As a near-founding member of the UK Institute for Social Inventions, with its aims that everyone should feel the power of being able to make some change in their surroundings to improve quality of life and to solve social problems, I set up a similar scheme, the Australian Centre for Social Innovations in 1991, with a National Competition, and later a website, on a non-profit basis, but had little success in encouraging new ‘inventors’ after the first years, as if times had changed.
The Internet offers a chance for all to be part of the Community of Scholars. Creative-Commons Copyright and other schemes need to stand firm against attempts to turn it to a grist-mill for the financial profit for a few. All that is published in research can be there for all to see, with fair reward for the inventors and discoverers. I would like my own research to take its place there too, and have made a beginning to that task.
Many reason are given why the have-nots should not have access to all that the haves may have. We may be patronising in regarding what we have is the best. Playing fruit-machines is just as good as reading the literature of the world. The have-nots are incapable of appreciating what we have. What we have may not make anybody else any happier. Surely we can let them live their lives unhampered by the knowledge of the times that may come – in part because of their ignorance. They don’t want it anyway.
Regardless of whether these reasons are correct, I have always taken the principle that the have-nots should have opportunity to access whatever may represent ‘the best’ that our humanity ca provide – and the fact that ‘the best’ is my own definition does not make a valid reason to keep people from accessing it. Much of what the ‘haves’ possess has been at the cost of the rest of society.
Therefore my work has been aimed to give the have-nots as much access to the world that is felt to be worth living.