HMI howler on English;Letter

14th May 1999 at 01:00
YOU CAN spot the teachers of English easily. Among the last few to retain words like "think" and "idea" in their vocabulary, they're the ones with the imprints of bricks plainly, painfully visible on their brows. The wall they spend their working (and much of their "private") lives chibbing is called "the wall of the anti-intellectual society".

It is built by systems management freaks, purveyors of tacky consumer goods to the nation's children, the charlatans of the "infotainment" industry, politicians who never speak the truth if a statistic is available, "educationists" who believe the way to respond to the computer is to reduce their own level of intelligence to its simple binary level, and educational administrators like HMI who make sure the builders do exactly what this nefarious crew of philistines tell them.

How Orwellian, indeed Kafkaesque, a sensation it was, then, to read (TESS, May 7) that Ernie Spencer HMI thinks teachers do not realise that "effective writing depends upon effective thinking". Not guilty, my friend. It wasnae me, nor any respectable teacher of English that I know (the others are all working as development officers well away from the classroom) who insinuated the ugly vocabulary of training - writing "skills", "learning outcomes", "performance criteria" etc - into the educational lexicon.

We have continued to think and to try to encourage and teach our children to think and express themselves critically, imaginatively and strongly.

We continue to do so despite HMIs like Mr Spencer who thinks teachers do not have the expertise to teach children to write. Since when? Who is responsible for the employment of teachers of English who cannot teach children to write? When did they stop being able to do it and why?

And, most delicious question of all: if this is true, how come, as HMI keeps boasting, Standard grade and Higher passes in English have been improving so much over the years?

Tony McManus Chairman Scottish Association of Teachers of Language and Literature

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