Has it really come to this? Have we allowed levels to sink so low? Are we now at a point where, due to inadequacies which apparently range across huge swathes of society, we are facing a situation which cannot be remedied? Or is this, as well might be suspected, just another excuse for illiteracy and laziness dressed up in the robes of a pointless political debate?
Research has suggested that there is now a problem with the English language due to its ‘phonic unreliability’. So, at base level, we’re being told that English, the language that we speak is too difficult to learn. That, of course, is one of the silliest things that anyone could ever utter: the journalist who writes an article bemoaning the lack of logical spelling in the English language still managed to correctly put the words down in an accepted order with appropriate grammar, according to the rules of the language. That’s how we were able to understand what the journalist was trying to communicate. Surely the mere fact that the journalist wrote and had the article published means that the purported premise is a non-starter, isn’t it? Although children in other countries learning other languages might have it easier – some research suggests that in Finland the fact that words look like they are meant to sound means that children learn to read fluently within 3 months of starting school, whereas in Britain, children need 3 years to reach a basic level of competence.
Typically, however, what lies at the bottom of all this angst about the difficulty of understanding words such as ‘orange’, ‘vinegar’, and ‘magic’, is that certain minorities are more likely to be coddled to. Research into the reading and writing skills of children always seeks to simplify English spelling to make things easier for dyslexic children and children from disadvantaged families where parents are less likely to read to their children.
That, however, is surely approaching the problem from the wrong end, isn’t it? Surely the idea can’t be to simplify everything to the lowest common denominator, decimating the beauty and idiosyncrasies of our language in order appear more ‘inclusive’, can it? Isn’t that the start of a slippery slope which will condemn ever more generations to a life of ignorance? If we’re stating from the outset that there is a problem with children using a word in English which came from French (vinegar), then it’s only a small step to decide that we shouldn’t bother teaching them French, or any other language for that matter. Those pesky foreign (another troublesome word, apparently) spellings will confuse the poor dears.
The problem, no matter what I personally think of it, is gaining support all over the UK. And the problem is now ballooning, to encompass the older generations, too.
At various universities across Britain, lecturers and professors are being advised to not insist on good written English.
Yes, university students, the top x% of the nation are now such thickies that allowances need to be made for them. Ah, but of course, it’s not actually because these undergraduates are thick that the rules, sorry, ‘roolz’, have to be relaxed to match a rapper’s style of trouser. No, as you might well have expected to find. There, lurking at the bottom of the argument, the very core of all that is wrong in the world has a place reserved. The problem, of course, is race...or is it?
Typically, the people who seek to pick the English language up, shake it about, potentially neuter it, and then return it as a barely fit-for-use replacement are somewhat coy with their language when it comes to stating definitively what they consider the problem to be. At Hull University, for example, they explain that certain students are disadvantaged or discouraged when “technical proficiency” in written English is assessed. Although Hull University states that this group includes those who attended underperforming schools, those who don’t speak English as a first language, and those who have long-term health conditions (?!), it’s not long before we get to the meat of the matter.
“It can be argued constructing an academic voice means adopting a homogenous North European, white, male, elite mode of expression dependent on a high level of technical proficiency in written and spoken English, a mode of expression that obscures the students’ particularity.”
So, yes, as we suspected all along, it’s all about race. Race and colonialism. Race, colonialism, and white privilege. Here we find ourselves condemning people for being the wrong sort of people. Condemning people for being born white and male, in Northern Europe. The world has gone mad. How is this not racist?
At the same time, declaring that good written English is beyond the reach of anyone who isn’t a white, privileged male seems to be wrong on various levels. Surely these people can’t be suggesting that white women, for example, can’t be expected to write well in English? There are a number of female authors whose work refutes that idea from the start, aren’t there? And doesn’t the university’s declaration suggest something rather disagreeable about non-white undergraduates? Surely the non-white, non-male undergraduates at British universities aren’t some sort of unsophisticated gang of ignoramuses, are they?
The proposed aim of this change in policy at universities is to narrow the gap between the mix of races to be found in universities, but if that goal is to be achieved by dropping standards, then what is being proposed is merely the reclassification of a secondary school as a university, isn’t it? All that’s being suggested is that we downgrade the universities to a lower level. Where should we then stop? Surely, we should then downgrade the rest of the education system in line with the new rules to encompass a ground-floor level of merit, shouldn’t we?
Ah, but let’s not jump the gun. For decades this has been a problem for English-speaking university students. Researchers for the 2003 publishers of a dictionary of English went on record as saying that students had an extremely shaky use of punctuation, especially commas. According to the researchers, increasing dependence upon automatic tools like spellcheckers, is contributing to the problem. Somewhat disturbingly, the research also revealed that, in addition to problems with punctuation, students were unclear on the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re”.
Bloody Hell. That’s nothing short of shocking. That was 2003, and from what we see and read, the tide has yet to turn. Which brings us to the new concept to deal with this decades-old problem: lower the bar.
Now, it’s one thing that the proposed solution of lowering the bar isn’t a solution at all, but it’s also intriguing to look at the reasons being proffered to convince people that lowering the bar is the response to choose. Race. Once again, the idea of white, male, privilege is pointed to as justification.
Putting all arguments not germane to this subject to one side for a moment, this argument falls flat on its face as soon as it leaves the door. The one group which has consistently been failed and as a result failed as regards education are white, working class boys. Now, we can obviously argue that by virtue of being working class, these boys are not necessarily the white colonialist leaders that people are seeking to rein in, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is these children who face bigger obstacles in the world of education than anyone else.
These are the pupils upon whom most attention should be focussed it appears, and yet, that is not happening. According to British statistics, white pupils are the least likely to choose traditional exam subjects such as mathematics, English, science, history, or geography. This means that these pupils are not destined for further education, let alone higher education, and yet this is the group that is not being assisted. It may well be that the spelling of white, working-class pupils is wholly as bad as that of children from broken homes, those who suffer from dyslexia, and those for whom English is not their mother tongue, but the white, working-class kids shouldn’t expect to be assisted.
They’re the wrong ethnicity, and the tar from the assumptions of ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘white privilege’ has yet to be peeled off. In the meantime, allow the do-gooders of British universities to make things easier rather than encouraging people to try harder. What’s next? Perhaps we should repeal mathematics? Then, when everyone in the UK has the education level of a potato, we can get some well-educated foreigners in to explain how the telly remote works. Alternatively, we could recognise that something only has true value if someone is required to work for it. A degree awarded to someone who couldn’t spell their way out of a warm, wet paper bag is surely not a degree that anyone would cherish, much less be able to use to get ahead in life.
So, we should pander to young adults and mollycoddle them rather than testing them, at the same time that others aren’t following suit. This will reinforce the idea that certain ethnicities are inferior to others and require a leg up, won’t it? Further, we shouldn’t bother trying to assist the one group which consistently underachieves, given that they’re white, is that it?