Saturday, 14 May 2011

Readin' and writin'

This might seem a bit a propos of nothing, but it originated in a discussion I had about the presence of scribes and readers to assist students, with limited reading or writing, in exams. The context was a discussion about their use in Britain, where they seem to be quite a new thing - or more likely, they're becoming more common now, and people are starting to notice them.

It seemed a fairly alien idea to my British counterparts, but scribers and readers aren't uncommon in New Zealand. The reasoning behind it is that if someone has crippling dsylexia / very poor handwriting or whatever, it may impact on their ability to perform to the best of their ability. Also, there's the question around what are we trying to assess? If we leave students who are struggling to read or write to do it themselves, every assessment becomes a de facto test of that - which isn't much use if the subject is geography and you're actually trying to assess their knowledge of African demographics, immigration push-pull factors and whatever.

That's why, in English for example, teachers and examiners are allowing 'non standard' English to be used in CERTAIN SITUATIONS. For example, if a student writes a brilliant elucidation on MacBeth's character, but does it in txtspeak, that would be permitted, because what is being assessed is the student's grasp of Shakespeare, not their ability to write formal English. In a formal writing assessment, of course, txtspeak would be right (or write) out.

Of course, in an ideal world, students would all be able to read and right adequately. But we don't live in that sort of world. Instead, we live in a world where handwriting is becoming rare. How are we communicating just now? How many of you write with a pen and paper as a predominant part of your job? How many kids grow up without using pens and pencils at home, because drawing and colouring in is just not something they're encouraged to do any more? That's where the problem originates.

The problem's a lot bigger than just pandering thick kids. There's a whole move away from handwriting, which will soon be a practice limited to the middle classes and above, as a status symbol. The filthy proles will go back to making their marks on important documents, just as they did a hundred years ago, or leaving thumb prints or DNA samples or something.

The idea that everyone should be able to read and write is actually very modern and anomalous. Historically, the majority have generally been illiterate. We're just returning to business as usual, after a brief, entirely laudable, experiment with egalitarianism.

I suppose the Daily Mail's next step will be a campaign questioning why we waste money educating these scum at all.

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