Hanging are we all by the written word

[Teachers] don’t know how to teach essay writing, composition; how to teach creatively. These are facts.
–– Minister of Education Ronald Jones.


We take the presumption to believe the Minister of Education is especially referring to the teachers of English of this day. After all, his assessment of most of the compositions presented at the Barbados Common Entrance Examination is that they are awful.

Coming from Mr Jones, who himself in his utterances and prognostications can be quite voluminous, rambling and challenged by coherence, the charge
of poor teaching and low pupil communications skill is profoundly grave and in need of urgent remedy.

“Every year,” says Mr Jones, “when we sit down to do the analysis of the 11-Plus, it is the same problem . . . .”

And he asks, quite obviously rhetorically: “Why hasn’t [the] problem been corrected?”

We agree students need to be taught to write clear, organized, persuasive prose; but not only in their English classes; in the other liberal arts study as well, and in the sciences and professional disciplines. There was a time, dictated by conventional wisdom and practical experience, when students’ ability to secure jobs and advance in their careers depended greatly on their communication skills that boasted proper grammar, correct spelling and polished writing.

Writing was taken to be thinking made manifest.

If teacher nor student can think clearly, neither will write well. And the former cannot possibly teach writing at all. For good writing is the tangible evidence of critical thinking: an indication of the proper construction of knowledge and literacy from information gathered.

Naturally, writing may take many forms –– from the school composition and essay to the research paper, business letter, journal, to the report, review, reflection, to the newspaper column and book. Indeed, commendable writing is not confined to English content courses, but is in fact a practical tool for use in all forms of learning and expression of knowledge.

Fine writing ought to be the thread running through the curricula of our educational institutions, that minds might be broadened, and communication skills reinforced and deepened.

It is not unknown for history or geography instructors, for example, to declare their not being English teachers, and as such not being obligated or expected to correct spelling and grammar in papers presented by their students.

They hide under the pitiable excuse they hardly have class time to teach their specialized content, furthermore writing. Of course, there are the ultraliberals who question why students should be penalized for bad writing, if they get their content answers correct anyway.

One truth is these teaching specialists see the attention to English writing as a great deal of extra correcting. The other is some of these specialists are not very good writers themselves, having been the products of the same dubious system of teaching.

As Minister of Education Mr Jones would have put it, they did not receive “the appropriate instruction, the appropriate process, the appropriate trend
. . .”, whatever the last means.

When next the Minister of Education and his advisers sit at the table agonizing over the deficiencies in the teaching of English, they might want
to reconsider all this emphasis being placed on “nation language” –– essentially dialect and poor English grammar –– passing off as Bajan creativity, when in fact it is a conduit for lazy thinkers.

. . . Much like the fad of Facebook messaging and cellphone texting that is anathema to ordered thinking and form, and a freeway to practised and embedded bad writing. Imagine the many hours spent sending and reading tweets, texts and other messages in such fractured language!

Then we feign shock that so many of our University of the West Indies graduates can leave their place of higher learning with such poor writing skills to carry on the insidious cycle of mediocre communications practices, dull and unpersuasive speaking, and horrid spelling and pronunciation.

Well, is it possible to swim against this seemingly unstoppable tide of poor and bad writing, Mr Jones? What benefit is there if our young know their subject matter and have “great ideas”, but cannot get through to us because of their sloppy and disorganized communication?

Can we ever get back to the stage where Barbados rightfully and legitimately boasted critical thinkers?

We think, Mr Jones, that the answer does lie in fine writing –– and speaking, to boot!


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