More courses for old horses

7th January 2005 at 00:00
I'm on a course. We are all on courses. The days are gone when it was enough if you knew how to read and write and had the interpersonal skills to hand on this knowledge. Even if you took a course only two years ago, there is no let-off.

This particular course began with a fair chunk of taking in government targets, which I am presumably expected to recall next time I am in an election booth. By 2007, New Labour will... oh please, just give us a break.Unit two was about target-setting.

I was enjoined to cross-reference all activities to the core curriculum so that if anyone cares to check, I can prove how much my students have progressed. Will anyone check? Need you ask? We have internal verifiers, external assessors, internal audits and the looming threat of an inspection. Only MI5 is missing.

In unit three, we are deepening our own knowledge of grammar. We try to recall our dim and distant school days, as we decline our verbs and subordinate our clauses, issue imperatives and become increasingly passive and intransitive. How interesting that "text" has become a verb.

Ironically, our course reaches this point just when anyone with a mobile phone has discovered they can communicate adequately with very little grammar and hardly a vowel. Shkspr, wr R U M8?

Some of my students will happily text and chat on the internet all day long, but take an hour to write a few prose sentences for their assignments. They have become so reliant on Autocorrect that they have forgotten completely where to use capital letters.

After we have finished with parts of speech, our course will tackle genre and we will write examples. When we get to parody, I shall be tempted to produce a version of Animal Farm in which the pigs try to teach punctuation, but the sheep never get beyond bleating "one colon good, two colons baaaad".

In my day job, I've been assigned to provide literacy support for Josh, so he can get through his computing exams. He can build a web site, provide hot links, and organize an on-screen poll with no trouble. In IT, I'm way behind him. But when it comes to documentation, Josh is in big trouble.

"What's wrong with it?" he demands, when I suggest he proof-read his explanation of how he designed and built his web site. "Well, that doesn't read very well because it's not a sentence," I say. "Why not?" 'It hasn't got a verb, for a start." "What's a verb?" he demands. "And anyway, why does it need one?"

But then, I still think a "platform" is a thing trains pull up against, "ports" are for docking ships, "peripherals" are unimportant things, and "programs" are simply mis-spellings of things you find in the Radio Times.

Josh knows the language of the digital world, and in a few years, Josh will get a job earning the kind of salary per week that I earn in a month. When the next list of courses comes around, maybe I'll abandon transactional analysis and sign up for program analysis instead.

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