Yes, this.

From Green Light Dhaba, a couple of weeks ago

When my child was in fifth, he was told he needed to improve in three very important writing genres: application for leave; telegraph writing; and notice writing. When I asked his teacher why these genres were important for 11 year olds to master, I was told, “Ah, but they need to learn them for the tenth boards.” I smiled and nodded. What else could I do? But the truth is, if our children spend five years learning how to write a proper telegraph, then we are in deep trouble, indeed. We need to teach children to write things that actually matter to them, because that’s what good writers do. (Future employers, relax: if you ask a good writer to write a notice or a telegraph in real life, she will figure out how to do it properly in no time.)

And from John Dougherty, today.

But, she went on, she can’t do that often. Instead, she has to spend precious time telling her class the meaning of phrases such as ‘subordinate clause’ – not because she believes that at 10 they need to know what a subordinate clause is, but because their writing has to use subordinate clauses to be marked at Level 5 in their SATS, and the only way to ensure they do this is to tell them (a) what a subordinate clause is and (b) that if they don’t use them they won’t get a Level 5.

There are not words to describe how furious, how utterly, impotently enraged I am that good teachers are forced to reduce the beauteous thing that is language to a series of components that, if assembled according to the Official Plan, will tick the correct box on some faceless, brainless imbecile’s clipboard. This is wrong. It’s stupid. It’s the same thinking that is now leading culture-free, drivellingly anti-intellectual philistines to suggest that it’s possible and even desirable to programme a mindless, soulless, heartless, garbage-in-garbage-out computer to recognise and mark good writing.

4 Comments to “Yes, this.”

  1. Ugh. Show me a country where this doesn't resound, and I'll move there if I ever have kids.

    In high school my English teacher had to FAKE my test scores so that I would be allowed to participate in the language olympiad- not because I gave the wrong answers, but because my blanks were filled in with everyday, simple words which, though synonymous with the required term and perfectly correct, did not appear on the answer sheet.

    But don't knock the importance of knowing what a subordinate clause is. The term is necessary if the kids ever want to discuss language- and since the internet has made the written word a preferred form of communication, they might well want to, at some point in their lives, talk about the tool they are using. I consider myself lucky to have learned English as a second language simply by being immersed in a culture that spoke it almost exclusively, but the result is such that I have no idea what a subordinate clause is, and am useless in conversations about grammar. Which is a bitch, really, because I have an excellent instinct for it and often correct my friends. I just know one of these days one of them will turn to me and ask: "Well, why exactly is it 'him and me' and not 'he and I?"

    And I won't be able to answer. If that doesn't sound scary enough, imagine they ask me why 'should of' is not correct. A huge part of learning about language is done by reading texts, but the mechanics are also very important.

  2. It does seem depressingly universal.

    I like grammar, and I think people need to be taught it. But they need to be taught how it works. The way I was taught grammar, and I don't think much has changed, was that we were given an arbitrary definition and told that we were supposed to know this. I don't think most people ever actually figured out that it was supposed to make language clearer/more precise.

  3. Well, nobody I think ever learned a language by first beginning with grammar. Imagine children being allowed to learn their mother tongues only after they mastered the grammar!!! Silly, I should say.
    Luckily the emphasis shifted from grammar to the actual language when I was at school. We learned English by reading how good authors wrote it, not from Nesfield or Wren and Martin. And I guess I was the gainer, being able to concentrate on the language rather than wasting time on looking into how it works. So subordinate clauses and their brothers, sisters, cousins and all grammatical relatives could take a flying leap from wherever, for all I care. So long as I could write, read and enjoy things written in the language that I know.

  4. Great to know it …

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