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Kunama 1977

To parents who worry that "standards are falling" I offer a challenge. Match something you wrote** with what your child is writing. Assess, certainly, the slope of the handwriting, the spelling, the punctuation, the syntax - for these are routine. But, measure also the sense of purpose and the appropriatenessof register, tone and flavour - the whole spirit of the piece.

When I began teaching, for three years, successively, I inherited children - half a dozen or so at a time - who wrote "the canopy of heaven" (with dictionary spelling) each composition!

I know that James Joyce has used the phrase and I have read it in Chaucer. But I leave it to you to imagine what meaning "canopy of heaven" has left for me.

Are standards of literacy falling?

The material that follows was written by students of 10F - not A, B, C, D or even E English. Admittedly it is some of the best I have received; but, it is also true that these are by no means the only samples I could have selected.

I have purposely asked the editorial staff to reproduce these scripts as they were received. This year I have been trying to gather evidence to examine the proposition that standards are slipping.

It is easy enough to compare examination questions. All I can conclude from them is that fashions have changed. English papers of 15-20 years ago asked Who? What? When? and tended to be analytical of a few selected texts; English papers of 1977 ask why? how? and tend to require students to have a perspective on a range of writers'works. Instead of "explain" they say "evaluate". Statistics of examination results are no useful means of comparison since the methods of reporting results are so dissimilar.

I have also considered the numbers of students extending their schooling into the senior forms. I don't believe that students now are amazingly more intelligent* than their parents. I do accept that employers are expecting, not 8% but 32% of school leavers to be available for highly selective and technical positions. I wonder if their expectation is realistic.

More than anything else though, I wonder what is meant by "standards". I suspect that for most people it means simply "as I did".

* It is interesting though to look at IQ results:
- Consider the strong verbal bias of IQ tests
- Assume that standards of literacy have declined
- Problem: explain why, then, more children are achieving higher numerical scores on IQ tests

** Please play fair - not what you seem to remember you wish you wrote - find a script!

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