by Will Lloyd
Tuesday, 13
April 2021
Campus Wars
11:06

The decline of Standard English is not progress

Hull University betrays its students by not docking marks for spelling mistakes
by Will Lloyd
What would Dr Johnson make of today’s students? Credit: Getty

There is something rather melancholy about Hull University’s decision not to dock marks for spelling mistakes because requiring good English could be seen as “homogenous North European, white, male, elite.” 

Hull is one of several universities that are adopting “inclusive assessments”. These are designed to narrow the attainment gaps between different ethnic groups in higher education. Hull insisted that dropping the requirement for a high level of proficiency in written and spoken English will “challenge the status quo”. The University of the Arts has issued similar guidelines, telling staff they should:

…actively accept spelling, grammar or other language mistakes that do not significantly impede communication unless the brief states that formally accurate language is a requirement”.
- UAL

It is extraordinarily tempting to be angry about this — woke university bureaucrats trash the English language! Could anything be more patronising than the idea that accurate spelling and grammar are somehow for “North European people”?

Didn’t Frederick Douglass teach himself vigorous English by reading The Columbian Oratorthat spellbinding assembly of the finest rhetoric in the language, composed by Sheridan, Milton, Fox, Washington and Jefferson? Didn’t James Baldwin and C.L.R. James know — at the very, very least — how to spell, and where to place a comma?

Any look at the historical record would show that good English is not the patrimony of “white, male, elite” from, say, Somerset. Modern English is a tool that’s there for whoever can be bothered to read and study deeply.

But in truth this is just the latest phase in a much longer-term trend. Over the last decade there has been mounting evidence that University leavers do not know how to communicate in clear and concise English. “People do not know how to write,” the historian David Abulafia said a few years ago. “Command of grammar, punctuation and spelling is atrocious.”

Abulafia was talking about first year undergraduates at Cambridge. Imagine what they’re like at Hull.

The truth is that Hull and other universities are not “decolonising” the curriculum or ensuring “equity of opportunity” between all students with these reforms.

Instead they are rubber stamping a process that has been ongoing for some time — a general collapse in the standard of written and spoken English. Instead of rousing (underpaid and overworked) academics to improve these standards, they have decided to repackage their decline as a progressive outcome.

The creation of standard English — a non-linear process that involved Dr Johnson, huge quantities of brandy, and thousands of candles — was a genuine historical triumph. Standard English allowed for the easy exchange of information, freer debate, and a level playing field for individuals of all classes to compete on. As Jonathan Meades once said of received pronunciation, standard English is “a sort of glue, a force for uniting a country.”

It is unsurprising that our own era, which has an oligarchical character and a stalled machinery of social mobility, should be one where nobody is taught how to read and write.

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Mort H
Mort H
1 year ago

Lowering standards leads to higher grades, reduced attrition, and enhances the reputation of the course for potential students. This all makes good financial sense for the Universities. They can dress it up as inclusivity or justify it with reference to a convenient trend in pedagogy, but generally this seems to be about ‘bums on seats’.
;

Clara B
Clara B
1 year ago
Reply to  Mort H

Nail on head.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
1 year ago
Reply to  Mort H

Edukashun Edukashun Edukashun?

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

I think it is a very good idea , firstly because I am a poor speller and secondly why stop at spelling? Should any student be penalized for not doing their coursework-of course not. Eventually if people follow this through to its logical conclusion we must abolish higher education as it discriminates against poor students who can’t write their essays or pass their exams.

David Hartlin
David Hartlin
1 year ago
Reply to  Mort H

Secondary education is a business first, so yes asses in classes is what matters.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
1 year ago
Reply to  Mort H

I am just going to take gentle issue. Like all things woke, it’s worse than it at first looks. The idea of of “lowering standards” is moot. They don’t want a different and lower standard. It’s the concept of a standard (any standard) in and of itself that they are attacking. It’s an overall attack on stability and rationality. As has been commented on in other areas even STEM, it’s not that they dispute that 2+2 =4. Though it might do or it might not. Or even that they claim 2+2 = another number. Because even that you could argue about and apply logic to. No. It’s not about that at all. It’s about removing the tools of rationality that hold the Western world together. No less than an attack on the enlightenment itself. In the case of 2+2 for example the answer depends solely in whose interest it would be for 2+2 to =4. They will dispute observable scientific and mathematical facts as a tactic to undermine the status quo. But also rely on them if that suits their purpose for a while.
What they seek is that there is no standard. There are no agreed facts. There is just a battle for power and control. My point is that, this is not JUST about lowering standards to make life easier for themselves. It’s an attack on the idea that there are useful standards at all.

Last edited 1 year ago by Samuel Gee
J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Excellent comment.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Mysteriously their pay packets never seem to be calculated using standard-free addition.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

“Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made” – Jose Ortega y Gasset

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl Schuldes

Nice quote, thanks.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago
Reply to  Mort H

A lot of foreign students who have barely enough English to write a sentence’s bums on seats. Keching! They’re killing the goose that lays the golden eggs and they know it. In a decade British universities reputation will be gone. But they don’t care as long as they get a good slice and now.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Mort H

It is nothing about bums on seats, it is about destruction of Western Intellectualism. It is about creating a new ‘Curse of Babble’. It is an attack on the very foundation of thought. It is making people sheep rather than thinkers. It is an insidious evil.

Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago

By ordering staff to ‘..actively accept spelling, grammar or other language mistakes that do not significantly impede communication unless the brief states that formally accurate language is a requirement’, universities such as Hull are reinforcing, if not widening the gap between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. Employers are not required to abide by this order, and will not do so, as even an outward bound email is a reflection on the firm, i.e. why would a potential client place their trust and money in a firm that gives the impression of being illiterate, and by association, incompetent?

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago

The end result is that employers will use their own tests of literacy (perhaps provided by independent firms) before hiring anyone. Any alleged degree which an applicant boasts about would, at best, just be used as a filter to get the pile of CVs down to a manageable height.

I have seen examples of incredible howlers, even in expensive advertising which reaches large numbers of potential customers. So you have a house description which omits the number of bedrooms and other key information.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago
Reply to  William Murphy

I already tried that. I used to give 20-something job applicants a page of George Orwell with the punctuation taken out, and they had to write it in. Of course there is more than one grammatically correct answer.
HR objected that it was racist because it favoured native speakers. I was able to show the opposite. The locals didn’t know a subordinate clause from a bear’s bottom whereas the Finns, Greeks etc who’d been taught it as a foreign all did, and scored far higher.
In the end it was dropped because it was screening out almost everyone.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

There is something rather melancholy about Hull University’s decision not to dock marks for spelling mistakes because requiring good English could be seen as “homogenous North European, white, male, elite.” 
the lack of self-awareness among people who say things like that is stunning. Why not just be honest and say what they really think – that non-white and non-male people lack the capacity to spell correctly. Or do math. Or engage in whatever other activities are now deemed to be racist.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I think the aim of the exercise is to avoid penalising North Americans for spelling and grammatical errors.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Then how are they going to learn? This is not doing those people any long-term favors. It is setting them up for future failure.

Michael Walker
Michael Walker
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

‘Favours’

steve eaton
steve eaton
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Walker

Not in the US.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I think there was a tongue firmly embedded in cheek there. But you are right. In his answer Mr Lekas said, ‘favors’ which is wrong. It is difficult to have a standard English when you can have American English, Hong Kong English, Barbados Engish, Yorkshire English.
In the past, when all learning was from books, you had to have discipline. It is difficult to see why written English is important today. Sadly.

As an afterthought, most books that I see today are written in American English.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Do you not think there is a difference between using “color” or “colour” and things like “we was…” or “I seen…”?
My company has an Indian element, so I see a lot of centre, behaviour, and other examples that are correct in their context. That does not seem to be the concern at Hull, but I could be wrong.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Point taken.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

American spellings are, by design, more logical and more democratic. Very necessary when you are trying to ensure that the various nationalities that needed to be taught English all had a decent chance to do so and could work through basic principles. There is no need for a “u” to appear in “favor” or “color” for them to be perfectly well understood. Why would you spell the “centre” just to confuse everybody but Francophone immigrants. “Center” makes more actual sense as a spelling. Nor does that mean we have to adopt American spellings either.
If we are debating standards then the American approach, designed for a purpose, is a good and necessary standard. Let’s not muddy the waters and believe that disposing of standards in general, and having a free-for-all, is at all the same as applying a slightly different, but pefectly good, one.

David J
David J
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Hull University seems to be inhabited by the intellectually lazy, keen to echo the current buzz-words from the land of Twitterati.

Gillian Rhodes
Gillian Rhodes
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Ah yes, the gentle bigotry of low expectations.

Helen Wood
Helen Wood
1 year ago

The Unis rely on large cohorts of International students for fees. Their English is often well below the level of an undergraduate native speaker. The stus are keen on doing language and grammar work but the Unis feel it to be pedagogically problematic to do disembodied language lessons. The idea is to situate the grammar work in context of the main lessons being taught in business or whatever subject. There are some stus however who still have poor formal English grammar skills despite this approach. But they will be passed on their essay assignments based on the criteria being advocated by Hull -of meaning not being massively impeded by errors with sentence structures. While this sounds inclusive and anti colonial it actually means that the Academic capitalist gravy train can continue to line the coffers of HE. Some essay assessments which deserve to fail are waived through or adjusted secretly later on to up the pass rates. Another instance of woke doctrines reinforcing the apparatuses of Capitalism…

Last edited 1 year ago by Helen Wood
Fred Bloggs
Fred Bloggs
1 year ago
Reply to  Helen Wood

Having taught in HE; my experience was that the commonwealth countries still taught grammar, sentence construction and argument construction in a way that was far better than the English do.
It surprised me – but the gap was not small. I would be interested to see Katherine Birbalsingh respond to this article.

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
1 year ago

Fear not. Help can ccome from unlikely quarters, namely the job application form and the utter cruelty of employers who chuck any badly written letter or form into the bin as they have dozens still of properly written ones. (Nothing like a reformed sinner!) From 18-22, aspiring young people have to have a crash course in grammar and spelling lest they be outmanoeuvred by their ESL counterparts. I have helped assist so I know.

Language is a code and the code in formal use should be universally accessible. So one wonders how the work of philosophy students could be assessed if words and sentence construction are unclear.

All through my non-English teaching career I corrected poor English and spelling, as my teachers did, and made my pupils copy and write out the correct words/phrases so as to learn not to repeat the mistake again. Mostly they did not. I did not care about current educational practice as I knew about employment competition but also detested the inequality created by the poor teaching of English. It is shameful that all teachers of all subjects do not do this as part of their marking and also do not explain to their pupils why words/phrases are correct and incorrect. Pupils love codes after all and they are at just the right age to take such things in and remember rather than be left in ignorance.

The 1950s-1970s generation fell foul of the fallacy that just because YOU found English grammar and spelling boring, then everyone else will. It has had profound consequences as the article shows, with levelling down in state education due to laziness and socialist ideology rather than the more equitable levelling up.

Another cause might be the influx of non-English speakers into schools since the 1970s which does make teaching English far more difficult but we are doing such children no favours if we do not teach them properly and thoroughly. The rewards for our culture can be very great.

I went to Hull in the 1960s when Philip Larkin was Librarian. Things have certainly changed.

J A Thompson
J A Thompson
1 year ago

Interesting. I also regret the decline in the knowledge of ‘register’ for communication – the use of different language/tone for different occasions/audiences; something which seems to be totally unknown to many people today.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
1 year ago

Ever since unis became businesses with a profit motive run by overpaid technocrats the student became the valued customer. Hence safe spaces, radical left wing thinking and no real need to think or perform. I don’t know why they don’t just hand out certificates for a thumb print.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago

Don’t be ableist ( see the BBCwebsite for further instruction). Not everyone has a thumb, you know.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

A tyranny of the mediocre is on the way.

It’s here already.

James Slade
James Slade
1 year ago

I think its simpler than, not correcting spelling and grammar means the privately educated maintain an advantage.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
1 year ago
Reply to  James Slade

Since the 18th century in the army, officers ensure that all soldiers receive their food first. The officers only therefore eat if there is enough to go around. All part of the Servant Leader philosophy.
Many soldiers however honestly believe that this practice dates from the First World War where snipers would apparently shoot those first in line believing they were officers. And so the officers made their men go first as a rule.
In short, people will always look for ways to confirm their prejudices. Your comment seems in the same fashion.

Last edited 1 year ago by A Spetzari
James Slade
James Slade
1 year ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Yeah because abolishing grammar schools didn’t diminish the number of State educated students at Russel group universities.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

This argument will go on and on for ever. There are two sides:

  • you learn from books and language is used in books. Therefore you need a standard English to fill those books.
  • you learn from You Tube which is anything but standard English.

Personally, I have never ever learnt anything from You Tube and never will. My first thought is always that the presenter should learn to speak properly and, preferably, without an American accent.
Personally, I think that a good level of standard English is very important but try telling that to my grandchildren.

David Hartlin
David Hartlin
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Have you never watched Irving Finkel curator at the British Museum on youtube?

Last edited 1 year ago by David Hartlin
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hartlin

I went to school with Irving. His father was our family’s dentist.
OT, but I thought you’d want to know.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Most of what I’ve learnt from YouTube has been with the sound turned off.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I have learned much from YouTube. Check out the 2,000 lectures from Gresham College, especially Professor Alec Ryrie on the Reformation and numerous other religious topics. Not to mention the lectures from numerous other colleges.

Chris Clark
Chris Clark
1 year ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Thank you for saying this! There are many many fine lectures and documentaries on You Tube. It just takes time to filter out all the rubbish.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago
Reply to  William Murphy

I, too, have learnt a huge amount from YouTube, specifically how to use certain music production equipment and iPad music-making apps. While some of the self-appointed tutors are atrocious and painful to listen to, almost unable to string a sentence together, after a while I found a few outstanding YouTubers who not only have an enviable understanding of how synthesizers and other pieces of gear work, but share their knowledge and insight in an entertaining, engaging and, above all, clear way.
I am terrible at working out technological things for myself, so without them I’d be utterly lost.

Shelagh Graham
Shelagh Graham
1 year ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

Youtube taught me how to cast on using the thumb method.

David J
David J
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

YouTube is a haven for serious and extended discussion, which barely exists on broadcast TV, least of all the BBC.
For music lovers, YouTube is a go-to jukebox. For classical music mavens like me, it provides the widest range of performances that’s ever been available.
Get your fix of space stuff at YouTube, whether it’s about NASA Mars rovers or SpaceX launches.
And for a quick break, sure, there are cats and dogs, otters and dolphins!

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  David J

The best thing about my smartphone and YouTube is having 24/7 access to any music I fancy – old, new, pop, classics, religious, film scores, studio versions, live versions, cover versions.

Cat videos… I get non-stop bombardment from Instagram, though I’m sure most of these hairy performers are also on YouTube.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I think you are in danger of confusing the medium ( you tube) with the message ( lots of uninteresting – to me- but also a treasure trove of academic lectures from all over the world, geographical and local visual tours, recherché musical performances and repertoire).

Tris Torrance
Tris Torrance
1 year ago

Everyone is talking about the teachers and the students. But what about the employers? Their opinion might be said to matter the most, surely.
I wouldn’t take on an employee who could not spell, speak and write with good grammar. If that’s a bit too “North European White Male” then tough. They still won’t get the job.
The good news is that I am an equal opportunity employer. So I will happily toss out the application of anyone who does not spell, speak and write well, whatever their gender, race, or religious view.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

In one college I worked at, I taught Chinese students. One of them used Google Translate to convert their final paper from Chinese to English. My manager was furious with me when I failed to pass her, telling me that her parents would take it poorly if she didn’t graduate. This was fifteen years ago. I’m not at all surprised we are at this point. The only difference is that it is now being called Diversity and Inclusion.

Nick Johns
Nick Johns
1 year ago

It is hopelessly optimistic to suppose that companies will, effectively, re-impose standards of written English. Even now, in jobs where you would naively assume that an excellent command of the langauge would be a prerequisite, like broadsheet journalism, articles are littered with grammatical errors, and an almost complete inability to distinguish between common homophones. It appears that the profession of subeditor has been excised from the newspaper, and often the wider publishing, industries.

Rosalind Buck
Rosalind Buck
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick Johns

Wrong use of pronouns is also rife in journalism.

George Bruce
George Bruce
1 year ago

I suspect Will is preaching to the choir on this one…

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

I should of thought their was a case for insuring good grammer and speling if your lerning English. Its only common sense. An English essay with mistake’s let’s it’s reader’s know the writers not grasped the language properly. Theres lot’s of precedence for this.
On the other hand, for more technical writing, where minor spelling and grammatical errors don’t confuse the meaning, it seems a bit pedantic to dock marks for the mistakes. Students whose first language is not English and who are not studying English would be particularly affected by this.
I do think that ambiguous, though grammatical, technical writing should be penalised. But that’s a different debate.
(oop’s – missed an apostrophe!)

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul N
Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

Could UnHerd be like slashdot, with positive and negative marks in a number of categories? Maybe we could have a “grammar and spelling” category, and a “too woke” one as well?

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

No. Its either English or it isn’t. I don’t want to go to the French approach and make the language static but I also don’t want to allow “text speak” which is a titchy little step from your approach.

An even bigger NO for technical documents. Its fair enough to say
where minor spelling and grammatical errors don’t confuse the meaning,
but we now have a subjective judgement. There are lots of subjects where there are only minor spelling differences between substantially different things. Getting lazy with the language may (probably will) result in getting lazy with the subject.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

Quite possibly. I’m not advocating lazy language – so much as a certain liberality in what we accept.
By all means correct the grammatical errors, and thereby teach. But, while I believe it’s entirely appropriate to dock marks for spelling and grammar when English is the subject, it may not be necessary to dock marks when the subject being assessed is, say, scientific or mathematical. Particularly for an essay produced under exam conditions.
Clearly it’s a different matter where there are “minor spelling differences between substantially different things” and the writer is referring to the wrong thing.
Text speak is a whole different debate – and it’s entirely appropriate for text messages. Less so, perhaps, for essays. LOL.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

Technical writing of all kinds demands very precise use of English. Whether it is creating accurate instructions for newcomers to use software (this is agony on stilts, I promise you) or writing academic papers for publication in scientific journals, grammar and spelling are hugely important. Look at the naming conventions for organic compounds…..

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
1 year ago
Reply to  William Murphy

On the radio the other day I swear I heard an author, saying her book was not a polemnic.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeme Laws

I would cut speakers on the radio some slack, as it is all too easy to mispronounce words under pressure. Especially if you are expected to keep talking, like sports commentators. Hence all the glorious Colemanballs quotes. Or the late Murray Walker declaring that a racing car is fine, except the engine’s on fire.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
1 year ago
Reply to  William Murphy

If I mispronounce a word I know I’ve done it, and then I correct it.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  William Murphy

I agree entirely. I’ve done it, and it’s hard – but important. And I lament the decline of proofreading.
But exam scripts (and, to a lesser degree, undergraduate essays) may reasonably be held to a less strict standard. Unless the subject is English. Then its important not too make mistake’s in you’re writing.

J A Thompson
J A Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

I would prefer ‘ensure ‘ to ‘insure’. but I have just looked it up and it would appear both are acceptable (though ‘insure ‘ is , possibly, archaic). I have learnt something; thank you!

Fred Bloggs
Fred Bloggs
1 year ago

So … starter for ten; using “affect” when they mean “effect” – is that a spelling mistake?

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

No, Fred, and I very much doubt that Hull University would treat it as one if “affect” were used for “effect” or vice versa. It is a common enough error that Fowler’s Modern English Usage has an entry on “affect, effect”.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

In Psychology it might be a serious error – in industrial chemistry or mathematics, perhaps less so.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

The affect of dynamite being ignited is a rapid production of gas. Its effect is you get blown to smithereens.
I think that’s right <G>

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

Good point 🙂

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

“The supply of gas was not affected.”
“The supply of gas was not effected.”
Big difference.

Last edited 1 year ago by Arnold Grutt
Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Social Media is awash with expressions of delight from students who wish to broadcast that they have been ‘excepted’ by this or that ‘bums on seats’ class of university.

Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

Industrial Chemistry? Hmmn.. Let us pray that Mankind survives the casual use of a double-negative.

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

We aint got no chance

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

I would have thought it was a misuse of language, or something like that, not a spelling mistake. Of course, this assumes that the perpetrator knows that ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ are different words, with different meanings in all, or almost all, circumstances.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

Don’t get me started on “imput” or “predominately”.

J A Thompson
J A Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

‘would of’ YUCK

David J
David J
1 year ago

A sad reflection on the diminished brainpower of those responsible at Hull.
They clearly do not understand the importance of having a common language, the rights or wrongs of which can be assessed neutrally.
Like so many in academia, they underline the adage, ‘bright but dim.’

Last edited 1 year ago by David J
Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  David J

Or Angela Carter’s ‘Clever Fools’.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
1 year ago

I was an English teacher 20 odd years ago in another life. One of the many things I found dismaying about the job was that it was perfectly possible to achieve a ‘C’ grade at GCSE without being able to spell. There were whole sections of exam papers that evaluated understanding and disregarded spelling completely.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
1 year ago

This is a terrible and worrying trend, taking place across the pond in the U.S. as well. It seems the epitome of “The soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago

End of the day degrees aren’t anything like they were once cracked up to be. Any self respecting employer wouldn’t hire someone who had issues filling in the application form. I have a friend works for the fire service and due to ‘diversity’ there are now many young slightly built Asians, frail anorexic looking females and people of stunted growth filling posts. God help anyone who needed carrying down a ladder from a blazing building.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Thompson
Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
1 year ago

They’re being trained for the officer class who don’t climb ladders.

David Foot
David Foot
1 year ago

Those who are not good at communicating and presenting themselves properly will be the ones loosing the jobs as we are seeing today.
Just because woke educators refuse to correct errors that is not going to save those “without any merit” to be employed from a state of unemployment.
Marxists would have to be even more powerful than the “woke” of today to force “any outcome at all everywhere” no matter how little merit it had. However the woke have had successes mostly in the public sector and that is bad for all of society.
People without merit but only because of a colour or a skirt are doing jobs which they are not really prepared for, this needs to stop because we all suffer. All jobs and positions should be allocated on a merit basis.
Marxists / Wokes really need to get hold of Dr. Thomas Sowell’s books and start implementing those ideas of merit. He explains perfectly the idea of the path to hell being paved with “good intentions”.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

My kids are still in primary (and in Scotland), but their knowledge of English grammar is nil. Thier knowledge of punctuation is nil. Their spelling is very bad at best. And they go to secondary school with this – very light – baggage (and no, COVID has nothing to do with it).
So, no; I am not surprised.

Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Are you in a position to help them by providing private tuition? If not, are you able to find the time to read to them, and ask them to read to you? (Don’t interrupt or criticise them when they are reading to you; simply make a mental note of where their difficulties lie so that these areas can be addressed over time.) Make spelling competitions fun by telling them which words will be tested, then asking them to research how to spell those words. Reward with 10p per word. Ditto punctuation. Make sure effort as well as success is rewarded, otherwise a child may disengage with the process. Not a total solution, I know, but they will at least be literate by the time they move to senior school.

Nigel H
Nigel H
1 year ago

It’s not just spelling though; it’s creating a report, or a replying to a customer via an email, which may well have to stand up in court.
It’s the author’s duty to ensure that what they mean is accurately portrayed and is laid out clearly, with no ambiguity at all. Misunderstandings can cost serious money for some.
Speaking from the word of engineering, I’ve had to admonish members of design teams (many of whom are young graduates) who can’t create an easily understood email with important technical information within it. Just one long paragraph of word salad, that I had a job understanding, never mind our Korean customer.
It’s not lowering standards; it’s about making sure the reader doesn’t have to struggle to understand what is written. To be ruthless about it – If you can’t get your spelling right, what else in a £5M pressure vessel can’t you get right?

Steve Edwards
Steve Edwards
1 year ago

I’ve just alerted Humberside Police of the potential hate crime of identifying “North European White male” as the issue. As I think we know, anti White racism and anti male sexism seems not to be a problem for so many people these days, especially those who run our so called universities!
Feel free to join me!

Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago

If Larkin were alive, he would no doubt write a poem beginning with something along the lines of, ‘.. They f*&k you up, the Woke Brigade’.

Edit Szegedi
Edit Szegedi
1 year ago

“homogenous North European, white, male, elite.” – this could be also the elite of Faroer fishermen

Ernest DuBrul
Ernest DuBrul
1 year ago

Let’s make sure that a large part of the blame is correctly placed, viz., on the widespread use of spell checker and grammar checker software in all written media. Not a day goes by that I don’t read an atrocious misspelling or basic error in grammar in some reputable newspaper, journal, or book. No one, except perhaps The New Yorker in the States, uses copy editors anymore.
The general rule for writers seems to be –If I didn’t get a spelling or grammar warning from my word processor, I didn’t make any errors. So why should I bother to re-read my piece or have someone else read and critique it.
Why should there be rules if no human is going to bother to read, edit, and improve a writer’s work?

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
1 year ago

Why would it favour males? I was under the impression that girls win more spelling competitions than boys … in any case, this is an old discussion. Over fifty years ago school teachers were saying similar things.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago

“Poor” has become a by-word for bame. If you flick through the Guardian, any article about “the poor”, inequality, poverty etc. turns into bame grievancemongering usually within the first three paragraphs. It’s been a process since quite some years (or that’s when i became aware of it). Which leaves the native, English / Welsh / Irish etc. unbame poor without a word to use for themselves.
Same as every measure touted as “improving social mobility”, this one does no such thing either. It is to desensitise society to the bottomless, devastatingly pervasive th¡ck-as-p¡gsh¡t ignorance importing itself into Europe by the boatload.

Last edited 1 year ago by Johannes Kreisler
Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
1 year ago

In my second year at grammar school (1960), our classroom was on the first floor. Our English teacher would start calling out words for us to spell as soon as he walked in to the ground floor. He called these out very quickly and all we had to write down were the letters where mistakes were easily made. By the time he was in the classroom we had twenty words and he would select individuals to spell words in turn. In this manner, I learnt that the way to spell “unnecessary” is 2 ‘n’s, 1 “c” and 2 “s’s.
We also had corporal punishment.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago

Totally off-topic, but i wonder if Prof. David Abulafia is related to Abraham Abulafia, the 13th century scholar who inspired Umberto Eco to name Belbo’s computer ‘Abulafia’ in Foucault’s Pendulum? (Been 20+ years ago that i’ve read it, and forgot pretty much everything about it except the name Abulafia. Such a good name / family.)

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

For a lighthearted take, the Daily Mash, “Do spelling and grammar matter?”

Douglas Allford
Douglas Allford
1 year ago

Might Hull have meant ‘homogeneous’? I’d prefer that as the non-biological term (as does Fowler 3rd edition 1996), but the meaning is clear with either form. Did they weigh up the two possibilities before reaching a carefully considered decision?

Last edited 1 year ago by Douglas Allford
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bhpp7jzq4g
1 year ago

I teach History to graduate students in a world class university. Quite often they make mistakes in their written English, though my experience is that this happens much more often with native English speakers than with non-native speakers (such as Germans and Italians) – presumably because they have not been taught grammar at school, and thus they very frequently (for example) mix up plurals and genitives. Of course good spelling (etc) helps them in life, so if I notice a mistake I correct it. But it is very important to distinguish between errors that affect the sense of an essay – which matter a lot – and spelling errors that are trivial and do not change the force of an argument. From that standpoint grammar usually matters much more than spelling. In my present university students write one or more essays a week and these do NOT affect their final grade, though they get feedback on them in small group tutorials. So they learn to get it right by the time they leave. I have taught elsewhere in universities which only get people to write one essay a term, and students hardly get any feedback on them; the essays also count towards their final class of degree. Under those circumstances it is reasonable to prioritise the quality of argument and thought over the quality of writing, provided the meaning is clear.