Monday, 1 November 2010

Leamington College for Boys

This post came about after I was looking on the net to see what had happened to my old school. It’s been re-developed into private retirement apartments. Can’t see me ever wanting to go back to Royal Leamington Spa to spend my last days in a part of my old school. Now that is a very scary idea.

“No one is more truly helpless, more completely a victim, than he who can neither choose nor change nor escape his protectors.”
"Since we cannot know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned."  - John Caldwell Holt

The first quote above, more or less, sums up how I felt about my secondary education. The second seems completely reasonable to me. How ever, what ever my criticisms of life at Leamington College For Boys back in the 60’s they taught me how to learn.   
At school and at home language was important and powerful. Speaking "properly" was  mandatory. At home I was encouraged to communicate even when people very definitely didn’t want to hear what I had to say. At school I just carried on as usual which didn’t always win me friends but did gain some respect. In spite of my typically working class background some people think I am posh and when I ask why they say it is because of the way I speak and the words I use. I enjoy language and it all started long ago when I was very young.

"The destruction of words is a beautiful thing"
"It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought ... should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words." - George Orwell, 1984.

During my time as a youth and community worker I often wondered why so many young people I knew had such poor spoken and written English. This was often and unsurprisingly accompanied by a lack of comprehension regarding some of the most basic areas of general knowledge. I remember a conversation where several young men, aged between 11 – 16, were discussing the causes of war. They confused the Japanese and the Pearl harbour episode with The Vietnam war. They didn’t seem to know anything at all about the Falklands War.
One evening a quiz game developed but no one could answer any of the questions. They insisted I be the question master and after some time elapsed, during which no one answered any thing correctly, I quickly lowered the stakes asking questions I felt sure some one would answer correctly. I rather foolishly offered a pound coin for the first correct answer not realising how long it would take. They all wanted to win and I feel sure no one needed the pound. The youth club should have closed for the evening an hour earlier.
After another half hour, which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy, I asked what was the flag of St. George? Immediately a lad answered – the football flag. He described the red cross on the white background. I gladly gave him his pound and we all went home. The thing that concerned me most was that these young people had such a weak grasp of verbal and written communication in their own language. Although it took time it was quite easy to engage with them in ways which added to their vocabulary and general knowledge. I wondered why was this not done in schools to a level that would sufficiently equip them with the basic equipment for self learning that would be neccessary post school. After all they all have to attend school by law.
Recently the head of an online graduate recruitment agency wrote that they reject one third of all job applications from graduates with good degrees from good universities, because errors in English in their CVs and covering letters show ignorance, carelessness and a bad attitude. This being the case what obstacles lie in the path of the young who are basically illiterate in the formal language necessary to progress through life? They communicate with each other but struggle to do so outside of their grouping.
Can it be that texting is adding to the problem? While it's clear that economics plays a part in the form of texting it is usually inappropriate to transpose the technique to a letter ,c.v. , 
exam paper or job application etc.
Exam markers have increasingly expressed concerns over the use of text messaging language in exam answers. The proof of its increased usage came when a 13-year-old Scottish schoolgirl handed in an essay written completely in text message shorthand, much to the bemusement of her teacher.

One extract said: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc."
Can you translate the above passage? R U a txt addict? Do you think txting is killing off the English language? R is it jst gr8 4 tkn 2 m8s?

I am well aware that language is a living thing, that it is constantly changing and that the English language is probably more alive than most but I fear this is not the experience of many of our young people, where basic formal language skills are not learned in the first place. I cannot imagine conducting my own life with out these skills but is that just because I am of my time or are there real grounds for concern?
I text, I use a computer, I use a spell checker and a calculator. I don’t want to do irritating (to me) arithmetic in my head when a machine can take the strain. I am not a follower of Ned Ludd but I don’t want to see the English language reduced to a point where we are significantly poorer for it.
Am I becoming a language conservative? Is this another step towards getting old and grumpy? Am I being snobbish about the whole thing?

I end this post with a poem written by a 15 year old schoolboy in 1962.
A fellow old boy scanned it from my old school magazine. I found it on his flickr page.
By the way I didn’t get expelled from school and never hit a teacher as mentioned on the flickr web page.
It seems the legends, both true and false, began before I left school.

Poem by R.E. Broughton IIIN The Leamingtonian Vol.26, no.2 1962



Anonymous said...

Vivian Stanshall once said 'I'm not trying to be different for the sake of being different...just for the sake of being myself'.
But my favourite Stanshall quote is 'Why can't I be different & original like everybody else'.
I think these 2 quotes speak volumes.


Tony H.

Anonymous said...

Its interesting that the only people claiming that issue is not a problem and that it is just the development of language are all well spoken and usually very literate. Its ok for them but there is a problem and it will have a negative impact when linguistically challenged people have to interface with society at large.
Peece lol.

Anonymous said...

The gap between those that know and those that don't is surely as wide as ever.
Re the poem - Original rebel l962?

Anonymous said...

I remember that in the 60's we often spoke a kind of "beat slang". The result of reading the beat poets and writers and it seemed perfectly natural. How ever we did also have a command of "the queens English" so that we were able to switch our linguistic style according to where we were and who we were with. Friends of my grand children are unable to do this and I feel they are poorer for it.
I say tell kids stories and engage with them. I bet Luke got lot's of stories when he was a nipper eh Rob?

Anonymous said...

Never did very well at school but I can read and write better than some graduates I work with.

2-0. Ace!!!!!


Don said...

As a fellow ex-pupil, I found it interesting reading your comments here. I wasn't any good at English at school, but I learned enough to master the basics and I did at least pass my O level *just*.

I remember I did get told off on occasions for using too much slang and colloquialism, but at least I could do it properly when the need arose: I honestly despair of all these kids now who can't write except as texting and don't see why it's a problem.

Anonymous said...

A Miss Pauline Wattis used to come into Leamington College and give us elocution lessons one lunchtime a week to make us eloquent public speakers. As a professional storyteller these days, I can't really complain. I'd always thought you were kicked out of Leamington College as well, so thanks for clearing that up. But say what you like about the Headmaster and Deputy ... and I'd probably agree with you.


Anonymous said...

I trust you were given a good thrashing for that heretical blasphemy young Broughton, and I trust you thoroughly enjoyed it! LOL {limped out laughing?).
And you failed to get expelled! Me neither. I guess that was the start of my downwqard spiral.
Where I work, I get to see an awful lot of student degree theses, and I can tell you that there are a significant portion whose literacy is of such a low standard I'm amazed that they got into university (this is echoed by many lecturers) in the first place. A worrying and significant portion of these are people studying to become teachers. Of cors dats jus me ohn apineun innit wot wud eye no?

ramblinmad (hi Shoreham)

Unknown said...

As the poster of both the poem and the suburban myth about you, I do apologise. I did believe it to be true - on the basis, it is now clear, of no reliable evidence at all. The poem, at least is genuine, and genuinely good. After we had both left that school, I particularly remember the gig inside the student-occupied University of Kent in 1970 when you played to a packed Cornwallis Lecture Theatre and led us in a memorable chant of "Out Senate Out!"

Sam Saunders

Sill said...

Of course you weren't expelled BRUSH but BUNNY wasn't very happy with your hairstyle on the day of the school photo!

"Jones try and do something with Broughton's hair" was close to his comment that day if I recollect correctly.

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