The Decline and Fall of the English Language

I was going to blog last month about how a BBC2 documentary found that 80% of Britons cannot recite a single verse of poetry. This is not helped by the fact 58% pupils never study poetry in school. Not a line. The ones who do read Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish lesbian who was just named the new Poet Laureate. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Miss Duffy’s poetry, but reading a single living poet does not constitute a sufficient literary education.

Like I said, I was going to blog about it, but I’d just be whinging once again about the state of education in this country. Then yesterday I was having a conversation with a couple of 14-year-olds. It start with me telling off one of them for using a participle that is an inappropriate term derived from an innocuous noun. He had no idea what a participle is. Okay, that’s not a big surprise. I probably didn’t learn about participles until at least the 9th grade, maybe even the 10th.

The disturbing thing is that neither he nor his friend knew what a noun is. This is something I learned well before the 5th grade, because by then we were parsing sentences. Now with the average 14-year-old, I have trouble getting them to write in sentences. I had a 16-year-old who handed in an entire 1500-word coursework without using a single mark of punctuation. I’m not exaggerating. But back to the boys in Year 9. . .

They had heard the term “noun” before. They just couldn’t agree on what it was. One of them thought it was a “doing” word. The other thought it was a “describing” word. He contended it couldn’t be a “doing” word, because that was an adverb.  These were not pupils in the bottom English set. They were not pupils with special educational needs. Because I was teaching a mixed-ability group, there was a top-set girl who actually knew that a noun was a “naming” word.

No poetry, no grammar. Is it the end of the English language or the end of civilisation?

One thinks of Eliot. . .

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends

No, wait. That would be trite  to anyone who has seen this over-used reference to Eliot.  And on the other hand, clearly it would be lost upon anyone with a secondary education in Britain in the last decade. I believe the general response would be, “T. S. who?”