Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Exclamation marks are

"out" it would seem. Grammar is "in". 
I am following the Great Debate on the teaching of language in schools in England with interest. I am interested because I am worried about what is happening - both there and in Downunder. 
I am allowed to be worried. What is happening is wrong.
Let me start by declaring my interest in the topic. I spent a decade of my life doing something completely stupid. I wrote letters. I wrote thousands of letters.  I did it in the days before the "internet" and "e-mail". It cost me a lot of money. It almost certainly cost me a lot more than that as well.
The letters were for a specific purpose. I thought it would be a good idea if the United Nations had an international  year devoted to literacy. It was a crazy idea. Who on earth was going to listen to a completely unknown, young, female from a fairly remote corner of the earth?
Fortunately for me almost the first person I spoke to came up with a brilliant solution. I should write to the people who could make people listen.  I knew it meant that I would never get any recognition for the idea. That didn't matter. I wanted to see it happen.
There were times, many times, when I felt like giving up. I wrote those thousands of letters. I would write at least one in the morning and one in the evening. I made them individual. It meant research. I had to find names and addresses. Sometimes friends who spoke other languages would translate letters for me so that they went in the first language of the speaker. (There's not much point in sending a letter the recipient can't read immediately.) I asked them to approach their representative at the United Nations with the idea.
And, they did. We managed  between us to do it. Perhaps it would have happened some other way as well but I like think that our combined efforts did it.
I did it because I grew up surrounded by books. I could read long before I went to school. I love reading and I want as many other people to love reading as well. I want all children to be able to read and write and I want them to do it for the pleasure of doing it as well.
It isn't happening. There is an obsession with "coding" and other "IT" skills here. Downunder hasn't quite reached the point of telling children where to put exclamation marks but creativity is rapidly being squeezed out of too many children. I have seen their written work. It lacks life. It displays a lack of reading for pleasure. There is, I am told, "no time to read". Out of school hours are supervised - or spent on screen time. 
Oh yes, of course some children still read. They read a lot. It's a good thing but the librarian in charge of children's books tells me that the reading of fiction has dropped markedly. That worries me.
We should be worried.
It worries me because we need creative children. We need children who dream and imagine and are willing to experiment. They won't be able to do that if they don't have the language with which to do it. They won't be able to set up a science experiment or build a power station or send a ship to the outer reaches of the universe, discover a cure for Alzheimer's or multiple sclerosis or diabetes unless they can dream and imagine and think in diverse ways. 
In school a child should be reading and reading a lot about all sorts of things. They should be writing too. In the junior school a child should be writing without worrying about where to put an exclamation mark and whether they are permitted to use one. They shouldn't worry too much about spelling and grammar either. They  should simply be concerned with getting their ideas down. When they have done that then they can be guided into the "correct" spelling and grammar that will allow them to be understood with ease by others. 
There can be few better things to halt the free flow of ideas than demands that what is being written is written correctly right from the start. No author works like that. 
If we want great scientists and more then we will start with great readers and writers.


kristieinbc said...

Terrific post! CBC had a segment on about this a couple of months ago. I feel sorry for these young children who are having the joy taken out of reading and writing.

catdownunder said...

Thanks Kristie - it worries me when I think how much I read as a child and how much that has helped me since!