(all names are fictitious and are the products of the author’s imagination)
Carroll Peters was normally a patient and accommodating person who had used those very attributes successfully for more than a decade as Head of English, Batemans Bay High School.
But today had been a particularly trying day, and it was not improving.
Her committee, the Inter-school Board for Academic Achievement in Literacy (South Coast) had just concluded a long morning session of robust and passionate debate. Carroll eventually called for a majority decision based on a show of hands, simply because the decision could not be further postponed and had to be made in time for this afternoon’s presentation.
Carroll’s committee, although not unanimously, had finally selected the name of the Eurobodalla student who was to be awarded the 2017 South Coast Literary Excellence Award.
Despite the vote, the debate had renewed outside the committee room and was continuing still as committee members gathered in the foyer of Batemans Bay High School awaiting the arrival of guest presenter, the NSW Minister for Education.
“Either you do not understand my argument or you are deliberately choosing to miss the point I am making”. Ellen was a highly qualified but feisty first-year English Educator at St Peters College.
In contrast, Jason Robards was a small, slightly overweight veteran teacher from the Moruya High School who had been Master of his English Department for the past 17 years. He was amused that Ellen insisted on referring to herself as an educator rather than as a teacher. She had reasoned that teaching implied just the basic delivery of knowledge whereas educating was more about absorbing knowledge and the formative effect of that knowledge on the mind and character.
He lowered a half eaten apple and peered over his glasses, “The English language is not something that can be tampered with or reinvented to suit the user. To communicate effectively, one needs to ensure that the speaker or writer uses the same defined language as the listener or the reader. Otherwise confusion or misunderstanding follows. One must express oneself with words that have been used before. Proper words in proper places”
“Ha!” Ellen sensed she held the high ground. “There you are. You have used two quotes from Henry Fowler. Fowler wrote his Modern English Usage back in 1926. What relevance has that work today?”
“I would say more relevance than the language adopted by today’s youth who you apparently so strongly approve”. Jason went back to his apple.
“The trouble with you Jason is that you are stuck in a language rut. The written and spoken word did not come to a skidding halt with Shakespeare, Bacon or James Joyce. English, as a language, is dynamic. It is evolving and must continue to evolve. New words and phrases will enter into common usage and old, out-dated words drop out. It has always been this way”
“I see no reason for change. A well-written essay is like a perfectly formed watercolour. The great classics we admire today have been written using all the proven disciplined structures of the past two centuries. What are the chances of further great works if our language continues to change and be eroded?” Jason looked to Carroll Peters for support.
“Ellen does have a point. The English language is changing and in fact needs to change to remain relevant. For example, in a few short years the largest English speaking country in the world will be China. 300 million students are currently learning the language. And [Jason winced at the use of a conjunction to begin a sentence] bear in mind that the largest circulation English language newspaper in the world is The New Delhi Times. So, the language will continue to change simply because of the different influences of its many users”
“Consider this, Jason” Ellen was beginning to show her frustration. “The words ration and nation – spelt the same, pronounced differently. Fashion and passion – spelt differently, pronounced the same. Traditional English language is flawed.”
Jason felt cornered “Don’t you see the dangers that lie ahead if, as guardians of the English language, we are professionally complicit in the lowering of literacy and numeracy standards? If we allow our students to set their own communication standards we will find that the next generation will all speak in SMS or tweet mode, or perhaps even like gangster-rap artists!”.
“You are being over dramatic”. Ellen felt the argument was going nowhere. “You need to remember that our language has never had a particular standard. The modern English language has been formed by overlaying Celtic with Latin; add in a good mixture of tribal Angle and Saxon German; and finish it off with a 1066 sprinkling of Norman French. And don’t forget the Vikings”
A resigned silence fell over the trio for a moment, interrupted by a thicket of noisy students loitering close by.
“Yo’, Mr Robards. What’s happening? So, who’s gonna, you know, like, pick up the English award? Oh-My-God, I hope it’s me! But my friend goes, like, as if. And I went, like, you know? It would be, like, so amazing. Like, totally awesome, you know? Oh-My-God I would, like, die! Whatever. Gotta go. Um, later!”
Jason shot Ellen a triumphant look. Ellen pretended not to notice.