Can’t spell, can’t talk, can’t write

What a coincidence! Last night (see previous post) I lamented the decline of teachers and today the paper is full of articles on school standards. Two such articles are “Uni gets tough on command of English” (The Australian, Dec.19) and another (also from toady’s “Australian”) which announces “Grammar tests return to classroom.” This second one says that in May the government will include an extra “language convention test” on spelling, grammar and punctuation in its national literacy test. Forgive me for asking, but aren’t grammar, spelling and punctuation an integral part of literacy already?

Surely comprehension and communication are what literacy is all about and grammar, spelling and punctuation are its essential tools. It’s this sort of goblledygook that drove me away from teaching in the first place. Departments of Education and Teachers’ Federations thought more about their own interests than those of school children in their charge.

Take for example, the hullabaloo when a brightspark declared that there should be more inspection of teaching standards. Well, teachers did not like that one and they protested that it was degrading. According to their union, teachers were not to be assessed on the academic results of their pupils, because that would be unfair to those teachers who had not taught well.

Can you believe this claptrap? Other professions can be assessed and rewarded but just try to suggest that teachers should have a minimum standard of achievement in the classroom and the Teacher’s Federation will be down on you like a ton of bricks.

The Department of Education is no better than the Federation because it fears the wrath of teachers and so has permitted the most lax of syllabi to be interpreted according to the whim of teachers. Of course, this led to a lack of uniform levels of education and so here we are, going back to old favourites, such as spelling, grammar and punctuation.

The poor quality of teaching is very evident in comments by readers in which I read regularly now. This morning, I was struck by the higher standard of expression by American readers regarding a statement made by, Shock Jock, Rush Limbaugh, who was born with a huge wooden spoon in his mouth.

The topic du jour was “Are women treated differently than (sic) men as they get older?” which was Limbaugh’s opinion following the publication of an unflattering photo of Hillary Clinton. I know I am pedantic but the question should have read “differently from” since you “differ from” and not “differ than”.

Anyhow, over three hundred readers commented and most were in agreement that time and the public are kinder to men as they age.

What struck me about the American comments was that they were fluent and grammatically superior to the usual Aussie comments which I have been reading. The American syntax and spelling were impressive. Plurals had no apostrophes. Full stops were followed by capital letters and there were well constructed sentences.

Granted that some comments were edited, but then, so are the Aussie ones. Perhaps they had better editors over there, which only goes to support my view. Our Aussie comments ran along the lines of “here here, you can say that again Peat. i agree with ya” Simply poetic in eloquence! What a laudable tribute to his English teachers!

Such a disparity in literacy is not totally surprising to me because I once had a Texan pupil in my English class who spoke in complete sentences without grunting or saying, “you know” or saying “Yeah” after pausing in the middle of a sentence. This Texan was a breath of fresh air, but after six months at our school we cured her of that. Her language began to reek. She became less verbal and grunted instead. She learned to say “dunno Miss” and credit where credit’s due, she was a fast learner. She dropped her aitches, ditched punctuation and shortened her school uniform. Her peer group had done its deed. Linda was on the way to becoming a dinky di Aussie.

Whenever I have travelled to the U.S which has been quite often, since I’ve probably seen more U.S states than most Americans, I have been very impressed by American eloquence. Americans like to talk and they do it well. I know it’s fashionable to criticise the U.S but where grammar and language in general are concerned, America puts Australia to shame.

If you don’t believe me, take a peek at the American readers’ comments on in the “Are we ready to see Hillary age?” section and compare them with some Australian ones.

Seriously, our children deserve much better language teaching than they are getting at the moment. It’s about time teachers stopped making excuses and undertook some remedial English courses themselves so that they can be prepared to teach literacy at a much higher standard than required for texting.


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