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New grammar and spelling tests have been introduced to British primary schools over the past few weeks, something that has received no end of debate. This is the first time for “quite a while” that such a large degree of emphasis has been put on grammar, with some questions being unfathomable even for adults. After taking a look at the sample paper, some of the questions are understandably tricky for those who haven’t specifically been taught the construction of our language. This leaves us with a few questions. Is it right to put such great emphasis on grammar, or should we encourage a more creatively and critically minded system?
First and foremost, language is a tool. It’s a tool of communication to transfer ideas, thoughts, and beliefs from one person to another. From now onwards, children will be taught the strictest of guidelines, which unfortunately have very little significance in our modern society. Why must we refrain from splitting an infinitive? Why must we strive “to go boldly” rather than “to boldly go”? To our modern ears, the meaning remains the same, and the technicalities suddenly appear unimportant, mundane, and often quite pointless indeed. Our education system is riddled with right and wrong answers. We are taught from a very young age to accept being “wrong” and we are similarly taught to follow a specified pre-prepared curriculum, regurgitating the work of others, and we are marked against how well their ideas are presented. Young children are simply taught to pass exams.
This calls for change. Our education system should be centred on the practice of debate, to allow the nation’s children to form a more critical mind from a much younger age. Once that mind has developed, ideas will flourish. Academia can only progress with fresh minds, and creativity is the key to evolution, a message that should be sent to primary schools.
The English Language is a perfect representation of our society as it mirrors current trends and patterns. We cannot attempt to hold the evolution of language back in any way; it is uncontrollable, and will simply run away from us. Teaching the strictest rules of grammar to the nation’s children may mean that they are successful on paper, but our world has no need for their newly acquired skills. The recently introduced tests are way of finding out whether children can follow rules; it has nothing to do with their actual ability to form a sentence. Language intrinsically requires more than stagnant minds following rules. It requires creativity and a subjective attitude to fully thrive.
This raises the question as to how far is too far? How far should we be prepared to deviate from so-called “standard English” before it becomes inappropriate? Some would cry out that even the slightest deviation shows signs of the imminent catastrophic downfall of English, but others are somewhat more relaxed on the issue. Is there a “correct” English at all, or is there a series of “Englishes” that can be called upon when we see fit?
Again, this debate raises the importance of language as a tool for communication. Language is malleable, and the very nature of English means we can alter it to suit our own specific purpose. The strict rules of grammar are only important to a certain extent; heavy emphasis on it may indeed do more harm than good. Language gives us freedom, and that’s exactly what should be promoted in the British education system.