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Marc My Words: Nglish 8nt wot it yousd to B

Marc My Words…

13 November 2006

Political comment

By Marc Alexander

Nglish 8nt wot it yousd to B

Language changes. Over time it subtly shifts, accepts fresh modern shades of meaning and, of course, new words. Other expressions, like spurned lovers, are left by the wayside to collect dust, creating interest amongst semantic archaeologists who re-discover them and, on occasion, use them to inject a dash of word snobbery into their next dinner time conversation. The language of Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare may not be in current use but we nevertheless connect with them (or at least most of us do), and we admire the depth and breadth of sagacity and sense with which they expound on the experience of life.

I openly and unashamedly embrace the skill of genuine wordsmithery. It comes as more than a shock therefore that an NZQA miscreant called Bali Haque, has decreed that text language was acceptable in our educational institutions where "form was less important."

Less important than what? Presumably this bureaucratic clod meant that physicists, chemists and all other ists no longer require the ability to connect with the rest of us. What about historians, geographers, and the questionable catch-all subject social studies? As long as you can get your message across is that enough? Why stop at the written language? How about allowing students to propound their thoughts in mime dance or, god forbid, tacky kinetic sculptures fondly requisitioned by dull soulless state functionaries at great taxpayer expense as a substitute for art?

It's hard to escape the conclusion that this latest brainchild of NZQA is a predictable outcome of our dumbed down approach to education. First get rid of exams that allow for a practical comparative assessment of educational attainment; then get rid of failure and replace it with 'unachieved' (as though success was pending); and now get rid of the very language skills needed to be a competent intelligent member of the public. Intelligence is now as endangered as this Labour government should be.

The theory seems to be that failure is not an option because that would imply a failure of the state to deliver an equality of outcomes. Our county's celebration of intellectual mediocrity is at stake here. The socialist dream of a nation of idiots could be jeopardized. After all it's much easier to keep the public stupid than it is to raise the bar for all. That might mean disappointment for some. Especially socialist ideologues who prefer imaginary statistical outcomes to real life results. Besides, the poor darlings might get depressed and need a bout of counseling.

Parents, teachers, and potential employers will no longer be able to demand a standard of grammatical exactitude because no doubt that will breach some human right as supported by the new low NZQA yardstick. It will happen anyway of course but not obviously. Employers will draft their employees from overseas where communication skills are still valued and taught. We already do have such problems because our young who enter the workforce have been cocooned in a non-judgmental atmosphere created by education ministry knuckleheads. The first time they are unleashed in an environment where criticism, success and failure are all part and parcel of grownup life, they simply can't cope and many will fall to pieces requiring therapy, acohol and sickness benefits. Their swelled egos, encouraged by inflated and untested self-esteem, meets a life which cares not one jot for their precious and precocious puffed up sense of themselves: something our overly uncritical schools have given them.

Psycholinguistics, the associated psychology of language, including the acquisition of language skills for children is at risk because the framework of thought is at risk. How we think is directly and intimately related to how we communicate. Words do matter: just ask any lawyer in a defamation case.

Text "language" isn't a language at all but a bow to laziness. It is a nod to the perpetuation of ignorance and its elevation is a continuation of an attack on educational standards. Our education ministry and the NZQA have a lot to answer for. Rather than give their hair-brained ideas any semblance of assent I propose we do to them what they are trying to do to the English language. At least the pretty ones anyway. The others we should shoot. Maybe then our education could be saved.


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