Newspapers, television, magazines. We are surrounded by the media in this modern day and age. The government has worked hard to improve standards of literacy in the country, and we can see this being put to good use all around us every day. After all, the influence of the media is enormous, and this makes it a profitable industry from which many people are able to benefit.

However, would it be as lucrative for an industry to advertise a product using, say, incorrect grammar? How likely would you be to even consider buying a product from a commercial advertising “Great price’s for eye-pods”? The sharper eyes in the land have been trained from a very young age to spot these errors, and even non-“sticklers” will be disinclined to buy this kind of product, simply because the authenticity is in high doubt.

By releasing 16-year-olds into the world with a handful of media studies and childcare GCSEs, and absolutely no linguistic skills so to speak of, what are we giving back to this country which has worked so hard to improve standards of living and the quality of the mediums we are subjected to on a daily basis? If we’re going to be forcibly press-ganged into watching endless advertisements for the same products over and over again when all we want is to catch up with the news on ITV, do we not have any right to at least be able to learn something from them? Or, if not even learn, at least not be subjected to incorrect grammar and spelling which would force our minds to conform to “regional dialects” which are entirely unnecessary. After all, “them young people these days ain’t got no clue about ed-you-cation” - which is precisely why the uneducated forty-somethings of Britain don’t have highly-paid careers in advertising.

So, by offering young people the chance to actually learn something worthwhile in schools, it will lead them down a road where they no longer aspire to become hairdressers. They will suddenly find that a whole new world has opened up to them; one where they will find windows of opportunity even in the council flats where their uneducated forty-something parents have brought them up. Grammar and spelling are such basic skills that even the worst schools should be able to rustle up a teacher or two who actually had a decent education in them.

Obviously, it would be ridiculous to introduce yet another GCSE which could be passed by a baby standing on its head, but clearly learning these skills, if only for half an hour a week, will help the “yoof of today” gain the mental dexterity to be able to actually get somewhere in life – and by “somewhere”, I don’t mean training to be a media studies teacher.

I'm American. This applies to U.S. schools, specifically Albuquerque Public Schools.

We’ve all seen them. From little messages scrawled on billboards: “Our prices is low!” to the child’s scrawl in the comments on the Tube of Youb: “wat i dont get is why did they end it differently in th comci.” You begin to think, “What’s wrong here.” The kid on Youtube, okay, maybe. The prices is low people… They’re professionals, right? They were paid to put up that sign. You start to look around and find a copy of the New York Times that calls shepherds “sheep herders”.


You scream. If only people were taught this stuff, you could sit peacefully through your job in the retail world where copy coming from the top telling you how to set up your displays would not be a jumbled mess of subject-verb agreement errors and clunky misspelled words. What a world that would be. Clarity for all and all for clarity.

So, why isn’t it taught in school?

It is.

Okay. Breathe.

It is.

Say what?

It is.

It is taught in school. And it is compulsory. I remember my ninth grade English class. We started with nouns and verbs and subjects and objects and prepositions and moved on to sentence diagramming and a whole slew of nasty confusing problems like: “Identify the parts of the sentence and write down whether it is a declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, or imperative sentence: Human beings being human.” And we would sit there, the class and I, trying to remember our notes and getting the object and the subject all mixed up, suspecting that “human beings” was the object but not sure if we should count that as one noun or if “human beings” was two nouns or a prepositional clumping of word mass. We often went home with homework and we often did that homework, stuffing our little student brains full of this stuff until the test where we vomited it out in unseemly chunks on our scantrons and forgot all of it.

It’s not that there isn’t education. It’s that the students aren’t learning.

And who can blame them? High school is filled with drama, angst, hormones, evil girls and asshole guys, subpar teachers, malicious and/or incompetent principals (one for each grade even), and guidance counselors who are more interested in getting you ready for college than helping you with all of the aforementioned problems. All of that and you expect us to learn English?

The students don’t care about any of this subject-verb nonsense. My classmates who sat around me were the usual collection of high school stereotypes from the morose goth kid to the pseudo-jock pothead, and all matter of people in between. They were human beings being human and as such didn’t give a damn about what they were being taught. And so they never learned it.

I didn’t learn it either. I’m self taught. Self taught from middle school even, where we also covered grammar, incidentally. In fact, I believe grammar was taught in elementary school too, but I can’t be sure because my memory doesn’t cover that section of my life very well.

Then there’s school after school. College where most degrees require some acquisition of an English credit. The problem here is that the humans are still busy being human and if they don’t have a vested interest in grammar they are going to repeat their high school mistake and forget it once the midterm passes.

The problem isn’t the schools as under funded and inefficient as they are. The problem is that people just don’t want to learn. This stuff is hard.

Andromache01 says: "This one has to be seen to be believed. "These's color don't-run" (next to, of course, a faded flag) was a landmark of the area where my first college was."

Junkill says "I collect these, misspellings, horrid grammar errors, etc... on of the funniest I ever saw was a sign at Fry's for a grammar checking program: 'Grammer checker' ... I also saw hologram pads at the grocery store 'Hollow Gram Pads' (that wasn't a trademark...someone just didn't know how to spell it) Oh and at my high school, the cheerleaders had a cheer 'H-E-double L-O, that's the way we spell hello.' Until one girl went 'H-E-double L-O-W...' a dark day indeed!"

Apatrix says "I have one very much like Junkill's. The local community college is offering a remedial course called 'Grammer Brush-up' in its catalogue."

Having been a teacher of sorts, I share this concern.

Winston Churchill in his memoirs, My Early Life, said “By being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys . . . I got into my bones the essential structure of the normal British sentence – which is a noble thing. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English; and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat.”

All of us accept, as certainly we must, that due to the ever increasing amount of knowledge, it becomes necessary that what was regarded as being the contents of the standard school curriculum a hundred and fifty years ago, will not necessarily still suffice today. I do not think that anyone today would expect girls only to learn how to read and write, some needlepoint and housekeeping, and expect them to be adequately equipped for modern life, any more than drumming some Euclid, Latin, Greek and history into boys would be sufficient. The fact is that the exigencies of our times require that both boys and girls be taught different skills today, in order to equip them for life after school.

My proposition is that we have, despite the understanding that more is required today as far as learning is concerned than was regarded sufficient fifty or a hundred years ago, as a society (certainly in South Africa) lost the culture of learning. Instead we have inherited a culture where people are now educated to become idiots with education. What I mean is that the education of some decades ago that resulted in a reasonable amount of general academic knowledge which equipped most of us to deal with life by applying what we had learnt, has now been replaced by a substantially more practical approach, in terms of which people are required to be equipped with ever-ready skills which they can apply immediately. In other words, we are training people to be lawyers (which is what I know a little bit about), by expecting them to know some law, instead of training people to be lawyers by teaching them to understand and deal with the philosophy behind the law, and then applying that philosophy to any situation that arises.

Let us take it back a step. In what is probably the best definition of “education” I have come across, B. F. Skinner states that education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten. In other words, education is what you take with you that enables you not to deal with any given situation by simply reacting in a form of pre-programmed reaction, but by dealing with the situation sensibly and intelligently based upon your reference framework. It was, in the idiom of (again) Sir Winston a situation where education was the tool that enabled you to actually do the job. Now we train people to do a job. Outside of that training, too many people are unable to deal with what they are confronted with.

Today we are constantly bombarded with the mantra that people must be invested with life skills. If one needs to be taught life skills, to my mind it signifies only one thing: One lacks sufficient education to deal with life on a day to day basis. As far as I am concerned, this is the result of doing away with what used to be called a liberal education, i.e. an education based on book learning. No more Latin, Greek, history and a seemingly increasing inability to read, has resulted in a situation where people have reference frameworks limited to television, and for the younger generation Mixit.

Let us return to Sir Winston. He expresses himself as being grateful for having acquired knowledge of the essential structure of the English sentence. This must necessarily mean that he learned to communicate effectively. All communication for us, and I specifically refer now to persons who have the normal faculties and are possessed of the normal five senses, must eventually be reduced to language. Even if I were to attempt to make myself understood by using gestures, the person to whom I am communicating, would interpret my gestures by defining them in terms of language. Linguistically speaking, if I may borrow from De Saussure, when you see a tree, you term it in your subconscious “tree”, or “Baum” in German , or when you see a motorcar, you term it “car”, or “Auto”.

Now, at a subconscious level, it is our ability to communicate that enables us to understand. Our ability to describe accurately what we are dealing with, and to then assess what to do about it. If we lack this skill, we lack the skill to deal with life and the situations that arise every day in our interaction with the world, hence the need for “life skills” to be taught. Increasingly the academically more responsible universities in South Africa are introducing intermediate years in which students are both taught to deal with their future studies by giving them a better foundation, and also assessed in order to ascertain whether they should in fact proceed with their chosen courses. Considering that this has never before been necssary, it is a clear indication that the school system is not giving the prospective university student a sound grounding from which to proceed with tertiary studies.

Having said that, I want to refer to some examples of writing from a final year class at a university where I taught. Now bear in mind that these students are on the verge of graduating and being inflicted on an unsuspecting society out there, the majority of whom do not have degrees, and therefore in some two or three months’ time will be looking up to these newly graduated individuals as being “the educated elite”. I also interpose here that these are final year law students (because that is where my experiences lie) who will receive a professional degree, and at worst be allowed to practice law independently after two more years of pratical training, for some less. Here follow the examples (the typos, number and concord errors etc. are not mine):

• Referring to the legal position of hindu marriages in South Africa, which are not yet recognised formally, the student writes: “The Hindi Marriages Act governs Hindu marriages.” This is all very well, except that the act referred to is an act of the Indian Parliament, not the South African.

• Consider this sentence: “Women’s rights in Islam have encircled an optimistic approach.” What does this mean?

• Bad news for those of us who are fathers: “Research have shown that a loss of a mother is more dramatic than the loss of a father.” • “Although all types of child abuse is to be shunned upon . . . “

• Statistics quoted stating that 59% of women in prisons had given birth to their first child while still teenagers. All very well, except that the statistic quoted is in respect of women in Canadian prisons, while the assignment dealt with women in South African prisons, and the statistics were quoted as though applicable to the South African situation.

The question that arises is what is the cause of this problem. Have parents abdicated their obligation to actually encourage children to acquire knowledge beyond what is required to satisfy the immediate necessity of acquiring a passing grade? Is it the fault of the curriculum children follow at schools? Do we blame the information explosion that has resulted in children being bombarded with so much information that they simply refuse to absorb any of it?

I think it is a combination of all three. How do we address the problem? Organisations that are not subject to the limitations of state regulation in respect of their involvement can adopt programmes to assist specific schools in their communities to give children more than the minimum requirement. What I envisage is a system in wherein people can broaden their reference frameworks. The problem is, unfortunately, exacerbated by a government that due to more and more such input by non governmental agencies (necessitated by an increasing lack of available resources), abdicates more and more of its social responsibilty. The vicious circle continues.

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