BEING able to write correct and coherent English was once one of the pillars of learning. Teachers worked long and hard to imbue schoolchildren with such skills.
So it’s almost incredible to hear that today, universities are deliberately turning a blind eye to incorrect spelling, grammar and punctuation because it could be seen as ‘elitist’.
It’s happening in supposed seats of learning which have adopted a policy of so-called ‘inclusive assessment’.
The Office for Students, the regulator for higher education in England, apparently wants to reduce the gap between the proportion of white and black students gaining good degrees and cut dropout rates among poorer students.
So at the University of the Arts, London, guidelines on ‘inclusive marking’ of written work say staff should ‘actively accept spelling, grammar or other language mistakes that do not significantly impede communication unless the brief states that formally accurate language is a requirement’.
Markers are warned to ‘avoid imposing your own idea of “correct English” on student work – be aware of your own personal preferences’.
Hull University goes even further with such folly. It says students with English as a second language or educated at poorly-performing schools can be discouraged if high standards of written English are required.
So, with its ‘inclusive assessment, marking and feedback policy’ it is committed to ‘decolonising curricula and reducing the attainment gap’.
It adds: ‘It can be argued constructing an academic voice means adopting a homogenous North European, white, male, elite mode of expression dependent on a high level of technical proficiency in written and spoken English, a mode of expression that obscures the students’ particularity.
‘The University of Hull will now challenge this status quo. Our learning community will encourage students to develop a more authentic academic voice, a voice that can communicate complex ideas with rigour and integrity – that celebrates, rather than obscures their particular background or characteristics.’
There’s that C-word again. We’ve long been told we have to celebrate diversity. Now do we also have to celebrate illiteracy?
What utter drivel these people are spouting. Spelling, punctuation and rules of grammar aren’t there to be picked over and altered at an individual’s whim. They’re designed to help form a comprehensible written narrative. Words are spelled the way they are so they can be recognised and understood by anyone who reads English.
Once their meaning is understood, they’re a universal tool – you might even say an inclusive tool – for facilitating communication. But to be understood, they must be spelled and punctuated correctly.
To categorise correct grammar as ‘formally accurate language’ is daft. Correct grammar is correct grammar, end of story. There’s no ‘informal, inaccurate’ alternative unless you want to descend into gobbledegook.
Okay, not everyone can be a flawless literary genius – spelling and punctuation are often confusing. But there’s little excuse these days for not getting something right, even if you went to a duff school or if English is your second language. A printed dictionary doesn’t cost much and there are umpteen free dictionaries online as well as spellcheckers and grammar guides.
Luckily, some in academia recognise these shenanigans for the dumbed-down, politically correct, woke nonsense they are. ‘Inclusive assessment makes me want to weep,’ says Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for Education and Employment Research based at Buckingham University. ‘Exams are there to discriminate between those who can and those who cannot, including being able to say clearly what you mean.’
Well said, professor. But I fear the march of madness grows apace in education.