Not quite the bee’s knees

Looking back, since 1993, I see that some
of the busiest bees in my particular bonnet have involved the destruction of the English language, society’s obsession with computers and our obeisance to the market economy.
Two of these are clearly lost causes but in the case of the third it appears, to mix metaphors in the currently approved manner, the worm appears to be turning.
The destruction of English has been led by people who should have known better. Several decades ago curriculum development ‘experts’ in the then Department of Education decided the proven methods that had, over the previous century, transformed largely illiterate English speaking world into one that could almost universally read and write was cramping the creativity of young New Zealanders. The resulting ‘whole word’ approach has been disastrous and led to level of functional illiteracy in New Zealand that makes mockery of our ‘knowledge economy’ ambitions. Now that someone else has decided that it might not be bad idea if students knew some rudimentary grammar, there’s whole generation of teachers who can’t teach it; basic punctuation is as misunderstood by newspaper sub-editors as it is by signwriters; precision in language has been replaced, in radio news bulletins and government reports, by hazy approximations or incomprehensible gobbledegook, books from once reputable publishers are increasingly littered with elementary mistakes. And, of course, there is not the slightest evidence that our novelists, poets or playwrights, freed from the constraints of any rules at all, are one jot more creative.
Our obsession with computers has been as unthinking as our blunting of the effectiveness of one of the world’s most subtle, evocative and powerful languages. The computer is, particularly in its PC manifestation, useful number crunching and word processing machine. The people who rabbit on about the importance of ‘computer literacy’ seemingly believe it is some sort of electronic replacement for actual literacy and the ability to think, reason, argue and research. One of the most depressing aspects of the last election was listening to all the major political parties squabbling about the number of computers they’d put into schools. It’s even more worrying to read that parents are choosing primary schools for their children on the basis of the number of PCs in each classroom. It is, quite simply, recipe for nation of semi-literates highly skilled at computer games and copying and pasting chunks of undigested and rarely understood ‘information’ from screen to somewhere else.
But is this attitude surprising when ‘virtual’ companies with skyrocketing share prices, apparently based, despite their breaktakingly huge losses, on the belief that the Internet is the 21st century El Dorado, are snapping up some of the world’s biggest ‘bricks and mortar’ corporations? The US boom is fuelled by such companies; the inevitable ‘correction’ will make the 1929 and 1987 crashes look like rainy day at church fete.
Still, there are promising signs that the ‘market forces’ era is drawing to an end. sure sign is those people you meet, ‘new right’ zealots decade ago, who tell you that they actually had their doubts about the market being the final arbiter of right and wrong from the very beginning. Shades of the Vietnam War and the number of long-time covert ‘antis’ who suddenly appeared about the same time the last helicopters lifted off the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon! Letting the market decide the price and value of everything, and the mantra that privatisation is always the best operational model, were major tenets of the most simplistic and unsubtle of the various economic theories we’ve tried, adapted and discarded during the 20th century.
In short, as nation, we have been let down badly by our most influential educationists and economists.
Time to go now, and start developing another list of pet hates for subsequent use somewhere else. For starters: the absurdly high sums of money we pay executives and bureaucrats in country with population of Manchester proportions; the totally cynical marketing of products to children; the seeming determination of the media, and its advertising and PR sidekicks, to champion the cause of the lowest common denominator; and the impulse to change everything again just as the dust settles on the last restructure.

Ian F Grant is writer, publisher and company director.

Visited 4 times, 1 visit(s) today

A focus on culture

Rabobank’s 520-plus New Zealand employees work from 27 locations – places like Ashburton, Pukekohe and Feilding and from a purpose-built head office in Hamilton. Its employees are proud of the

Read More »
Close Search Window