Future English & Future Britain

The state of education across the world

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 13 May 2013, 16:12

Grant wrote:Elliott, your bleak view of mankind is sobering. Do you subscribe to the stance of H. G. Wells in "The Time Machine" where we will evolve into two separate species with one living off the other? Do we have that situation now but in a less overt manner?

Well, I don't have nearly enough confidence in my powers of prophecy to make a prediction like that! I really have no idea how things are going to turn out. I suspect, in the more medium term, that what will happen is that we'll learn from a lot of the mistakes of the 20th century and things like egalitarianism, diversity and feminism will be wiped off the face of the planet. Certainly I think successful societies in, say, the 22nd and 23rd centuries will be much closer to the 19th century West than to the 21st century West.

I wouldn't say my view of mankind is "bleak". I think it is realistic. But then everybody thinks their own personal view is realistic, don't they? Nobody ever says "oh I'm not a realist".

Is life truly a case of survival of the fittest?

I hope not, and I don't think it is. I think civilised society pretty much eliminates that threat to the weaker among us (like me, for example. I have epilepsy and, without modern medication, might well have had a fit that killed me by now). Maybe nowadays you could say it's a case of "success of the fittest", but not survival. We all survive now. (This is a problem. 1000 years ago, the useless perished. Now they live off the useful, exhausting and demoralising them. I think one of the major challenges for the West, after the Islamic/Third Worlder problem has been dealt with, will be figuring out something for the useless to do in a highly automated society in which they are not needed any more. Maybe we'll be like Stalinist Russia, getting some peasants to dig holes and some other peasants to fill them in again, over and over. Alternatively, it might be a more pleasant scenario of giving them effortlessly-produced amusements just to keep them off the streets.)

The relevance of "the tribal setting", in my opinion, is purely that it is where human nature was forged. I think we can learn from it. It's also much simpler than a modern society so it's a way of boiling things down to their essentials and finding truths about ourselves that are often obscured by modern complexity. I think psychologically we're still very much the same as the people who lived in caves 50,000 years ago. Ironically, one of the main reasons why liberals are so dangerous is that they believe we're not the same as those cavemen, that scientific and cultural advancements have actually changed our human nature. I believe they are completely wrong.

If you're interested in the tribal thing, Grant, you should read Roger Scruton's The Uses of Pessimism, where he brilliantly shows how many modern intellectual fallacies were, however fallacious, necessary to us in the tribal environment, explaining why we are still prone to them today.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 18 May 2013, 15:53

Having just encountered this in a video, I feel compelled to complain about it here because it always irritates when I hear it... When a person says "somethink" instead of "something".

Honestly, I don't know why it doesn't occur to them that they should just stop doing it.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 27 May 2013, 16:35

Here is a video of an Englishwoman who speaks amazingly well, given the age she claims to be (33) and the age we live in. I associate diction like this with somebody who is no younger than 60 or even 70.

(Her reasons for being on TV are ludicrous, and she's probably an idiot, but try to ignore that and marvel at her diction like I did!)
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 29 May 2013, 11:08

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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 29 May 2013, 11:39

I actually read that about an hour ago. What an embarrassment.

Prof Horobin, said that it was a “comparatively recent phenomenon” that we all stuck to a standard form of spelling, pointing out that in Middle English there were 500 different recorded spellings of “through”, including: drowgh, trowffe, trghug, yhurght. “Such” and “shall” were also spelt in numerous different ways.


Perhaps the Professor might care to note that communication between individuals, and different groups of people, has improved somewhat since Middle English days. Now I wonder why that could be?

“The idea behind it is that spelling is fixed. There is a right and a wrong. It’s nice and clear cut and you go back to rote learning – learn it, recite it, get it right. It’s tangible. But the problem is what is the value of that? It teaches you how to spell 162 words, it doesn’t take you beyond that. It doesn’t mean you understand what they mean.”


Utterly beyond lampoon.

The sight of people who have prospered wonderfully from a quality academic education airily seeking to deny future generations that privilege is nauseating.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Andreas » 29 May 2013, 19:06

“Is the apostrophe so crucial to the preservation of our society?” he asked.


In some sense, yes, it is. Many people today don't know when to write "its" vs. "it's." Not only do they not understand the purpose of an apostrophe, but even the difference in the meaning between those two words doesn't seem clear to them. So if preservation of our society requires the preservation of clear, logical thinking and the ability to distinguish one meaning from another, yes, the apostrophe and correct spellings are important.

It's dismaying that an Oxford professor would promote this view. Does he have any reason to do this? To show that he's not elitist? The same thinking was behind an ill-conceived action by the Oakland, California school board some years ago:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakland_Eb ... ontroversy
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 01 Jun 2013, 15:22

Yet another language expert, David Crystal, Professor of Linguists at Bangor University, has advocated the simplification of English, saying it is "inevitable" because of the Internet. This took place at, of all venues, the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts.

Professor Crystal also criticised the government's encouraging of using phonics to teach children English: “To be told by the Government that it has to be entirely phonics is absurd, because the English language is a mix of phonics and whole words.”
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 02 Jun 2013, 01:12

That is really disappointing coming from someone like him. I have a number of his books and have enjoyed them, so it's a real shame to see him taking the easy, they'll-all-cheer-me-for-this option rather than thinking properly about how such an attitude would affect education in a practical sense (especially for those who don't have all the pre-existing advantages). The appeal to Middle English (again!) is astonishingly silly.

And as for the comments about phonics, I'm not fully au fait with Gove's suggested reforms which have provoked so much gnashing of teeth among the intelligentsia, but is he really proposing exclusive use of phonics? I very much doubt it. It sounds like the usual sort of straw-man argument against phonics which TD wrote about here.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 02 Jun 2013, 01:29

Mike, Gove strikes me as a bit of an ideologue but I don't think he is stupid enough to advocate only phonics teaching. I am also not au fait with his policies but I really think the liberals are bound to be getting carried away. Gove is ultimately a pragmatist and the type who is interested in end results, not methods.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 04 Jun 2013, 15:22

Confirming something that I predicted in the OP, teachers in Kent are to get grammar lessons.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 05 Jun 2013, 01:20

Elliott: I know this may upset some, but to be honest, I think modern primary school teachers are largely unskilled labour. Certainly what many actually do in their jobs could be done just about as well by many intelligent people with a minor amount of on-the-job training. Honestly, you could probably walk in off the street and teach any class except a foreign language or music, and those are usually taught by specialists anyway. A large part of the job requirement seems to be appearing "nice" to the students. Many kids at that age operate purely on an emotional, irrational level.

When I decided to become a teacher, I decided against becoming a primary school teacher because I thought it would be a waste of my intellect. In retrospect, I think most of high school is a waste of anyone's intellect, unless you're working with really good colleagues and smart and inquisitive kids at the upper levels of school. So much of what takes place is busy work and putting out fires. I probably would prefer to teach grade six if I could. Yet I'd end up hanging myself in a broom closet having to work with other primary school teachers.

All my experiences with primary school teachers in my education course, and afterwards, have reinforced the idea that modern primary school teachers are, in the main, complete morons. The overwhelming majority of people in my course who were going into primary school teaching fell into one of two broad camps. The first contained women in their early to mid thirties who had their own kids. The kids had just hit school, or were about to. The women needed to work for financial reasons (they were almost all married, but the reality of the modern middle class is that it's very difficult to only have one breadwinner). Yet they also wanted or needed a job that would give them a certain amount of flexibility regarding their own child rearing schedules, particularly when it came to school holidays. They also, to some extent, saw children in general as an extension of their own, i.e. cute, adorable, and unable to do wrong (which never seemed to gel with the fact that having little kids looks to me like having Jihadists constantly plotting your downfall in the next bedroom).

The second category almost invariably contained women in their early twenties who, to a woman, said their motivations for becoming teachers were because kids are so cute. The irony was that they were often incredibly dowdy, overweight, unattractive women who were going to work in an almost all-female environment and so would be unlikely to meet men and have children of their own anyway. The other point about them was that although the former group were not exactly rocket scientists, the younger primary school teachers were thick as door posts. My God they were dumb.

All of this talk of tutoring them in the three Rs doesn't surprise me at all. Indeed, I was actually tutoring one in the three Rs so she could pass the basic proficiency test (after having failed it several times). Of course, I met a fair few secondary school teachers who struggled at times (including future English teachers!), but the primary school teachers truly had issues.

The thing that used to really drive me up the wall was that we'd always get put in groups of six to eight people and be told to work on some sort of project. I know this will come as no surprise to anyone, but I was the class smarty pants anyway, and I probably annoyed a lot of people. Anyway, as the year wore on, I'd leave them more and more to handle various tasks because I just couldn't involve myself in the obligatory, bumbling discussion or watch their mental gears creak along when I knew what the correct answers were right from the start. Of course, it's always more important that everyone feels like he or she has contributed, even if he or she has nothing to contribute. So we'd be given a task that I could do in under five minutes if I just wrested it away from everyone else's sharing session, but I'd let them have a go and they'd battle on for ten minutes, not finish it, and get half of what they did finish wrong anyway. Then the teacher of our class would reveal that it was actually a test given to eleven year old Japanese kids or part of the entrance exam for the University of Melbourne in 1890 or something of the sort. Of course, though, it was all okay. No, we (they) weren't a bunch of morons, those tests were relevant in this day and age. (Of course, I'd always end up in a near argument with the teacher.) Oh. My. God.

Imagine being a smart, intellectually curious twelve year old boy in government schools now. The horror. In grade three, I wrote a sentence along the following lines: "The man fenced in the pool." My teacher marked it as incorrect along the lines that it would be illogical for a person to have a sword fight in a swimming pool (despite the sentence being grammatically correct anyway). Yet there is also another, quite distinct meaning to that sentence, namely a man doing a home construction project. My teacher that year was the reason my parents took me out of the government school system. I was unchallenged, and I knew my teacher was a moron. Consequently, I was starting to have all sorts of behavioural issues. Curiously, all of the problems went away when I started attending a private school with male teachers who didn't put up with nonsense, and who were clearly my intellectual superiors. Funny that.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Jonathan » 05 Jun 2013, 09:22

Caleb wrote:Elliott: I know this may upset some, but to be honest, I think modern primary school teachers are largely unskilled labour.


I found myself volunteering to teach a class of 4th-graders one lesson on a topic of my choice (along with a partner). I think they were 4th graders. It went very well (they were rather bright), but standing in front of a class of 35 10-year-olds is no small matter. Some people are naturals at controlling and disciplining such crowds, but those who aren't need training and guidance to make them effective. I had the feeling that if I lost control for even one moment, the herd of buffalo would stampede.

Unrelated to that experience, I've found that many people, when asked a poorly-phrased question, do not succeed in perceiving the misunderstanding which lies at the root of the question. This is a very useful skill when training someone one-on-one; I'm not sure how necessary it is with a primary school class.

If I may ask, in which country did you undergo this training, Caleb?
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 05 Jun 2013, 19:21

An author provides a list of 30 Things to tell a Grammar Snob. As I read the list, I came up with a rebuke to every single point, each one being a tedious straw man. He even does that classic stupid thing of using a comparison with Shakespeare's rule-breaking to excuse the crimes of modern illiterates - something we tackled back on page 1 of this thread. Elsewhere he suggests that, since the first grammar textbook was published after Shakespeare had finished schooling, grammar can't have been part of his education! Basically the man is an idiot; I can't even be bothered dancing around the issue anymore.

Perhaps the most cretinous of his points is this one:
The Victorians tightened things up. They liked strict grammar. But then, they also liked corsets.

Ho ho! Well, if the Victorians were into strict grammar, it must be bad! After all, they were a bit conservative, weren't they? Innit!
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 06 Jun 2013, 00:42

Jonathan wrote:
Caleb wrote:Elliott: I know this may upset some, but to be honest, I think modern primary school teachers are largely unskilled labour.


I found myself volunteering to teach a class of 4th-graders one lesson on a topic of my choice (along with a partner). I think they were 4th graders. It went very well (they were rather bright), but standing in front of a class of 35 10-year-olds is no small matter. Some people are naturals at controlling and disciplining such crowds, but those who aren't need training and guidance to make them effective. I had the feeling that if I lost control for even one moment, the herd of buffalo would stampede.

Unrelated to that experience, I've found that many people, when asked a poorly-phrased question, do not succeed in perceiving the misunderstanding which lies at the root of the question. This is a very useful skill when training someone one-on-one; I'm not sure how necessary it is with a primary school class.

If I may ask, in which country did you undergo this training, Caleb?


I did my training in Victoria, Australia.

You're right that standing in front of a group of children is not an easy task. Everyone's first student teaching placement is something of a disaster during at least one lesson. The kids have a field day.

However, it's a pretty quick learning process. I suspect that anyone who has his or her own kids (and several of them) has a distinct advantage. Primary school teaching is generalist in nature, and anyone who is relatively intelligent will already have all of the (English) language and mathematics components under control. Even if a little sketchy on some of the other subjects such as history or science, it's sufficiently basic that you can wing it basically by staying two lessons ahead of the students.

As for the classroom management, at that age, it really is all about routines. All the lining up, putting things away in particular places and so on act as reference points for the students throughout the day. Even using particular coloured pens or pencils for different activities do. From there it's largely about pacing and organisation. A better lesson (in terms of content and activities) that is less organised is worse than a worse lesson (in terms of content and activities) that is less organised. When kids aren't busy, they act out.

Yet I don't think these are terribly difficult skills to acquire. In Taiwan, there are a lot of private language schools and kindergartens. These typically cater to students under the age of twelve. I taught in one when I first arrived. Very few of the people in my training group were certified teachers. The two biggest draws for that company, I think, are its marketing and the fact that its programmes are highly, highly structured. I have issues with the content, and the way a lot of it is delivered, as well as other issues outside of the classroom. However, they take people who have never stepped in a classroom before, and train them in a week or week and a half. Within a few months of experience, the teachers have more or less hit their stride or they haven't.

This is why I think teaching young children is more or less unskilled labour (in this day and age). I think it's qualitatively different to secondary school teaching (when it's not dumbed down), and also to other professions. There's a different body of knowledge required, for one thing, but it's also more than that. Even aside from the knowledge required, I don't think I'd be that happy with plucking a random stranger and trying to turn him into an architect, lawyer or doctor. Those things require certain types of thinkers who aren't evenly distributed throughout the population and can't just be trained from such a population.
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Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 09 Jun 2013, 19:45

This might be blasphemy, but...

I think this punctuation:
In "A Clockwork Orange", the droogs

is better than this punctuation:
In "A Clockwork Orange," the droogs


Apparently the second version is the correct one. I don't like this.

The bit in quotation marks is part of the first clause, so surely its ending (the second quotation mark) should be inside the first clause, not outside it? I think the quotation should be entirely contained in the first clause, not untidily over-stepping it with its closing quotation mark.

I think the rule should be changed. What do other people think?
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