I recently read an article about the subject of English in schools and how it is currently being taught. It seems that in recent years there has been a revival of a blinkered focus on grammar and technical ‘jargon’ to the detriment of creativity, which is leading in turn to fewer people writing.
I am one of a generation whose schooling experienced a light-touch approach on what was termed then as English Language. We were taught the broad basics of grammar and its terminology, but the focus on this was fairly low-key – something that for me was a blessing as even this brief brush against a formulaic tethering of words and sentences, made me shy away. It felt too much like maths: rules and labels that seemed so abstract and complicated in their composition, as to suck all of the life and vibrancy out of a piece of text. Writing for me has always meant freedom and wide open spaces.
In the absence of a detailed understanding of English Language, how was I then able to pursue a successful career in writing and proof-editing?
… The answer lies in reading.
From the very first moments of my childhood I was read to by my parents. As well as reading stories from books, my mother used to invent stories from her own imagination. Reading was a major part of my life from day one; consequently, I learned to be a competent reader from a young age and read prolifically.
All of this reading led on naturally to writing and as a child, I began to compose poems and stories – developing a deep passion for reading and writing that has never left me. Reading also ingrained in me an instinctive sense of how to structure my writing and identify when things didn’t sound quite right. Rather than my education of English being condensed into a set of rules and ‘rights and wrongs’, reading and writing for me was an organic process, one that ultimately meant escapism and beauty. Using words to express landscapes, feelings and thoughts – to my mind – is just magical.
A light-touch approach to technical jargon is something that has been reinforced during my proofreading training – the focus is on the ability to make writing legible, read as intended, and make sense without stifling or altering the voice and style of the author. There is a distinct absence of focus on terminology and ‘rules’ with regards to grammar, and a recognition that to a certain extent, the rules of grammar are fluid – in the same way as language – altering over the years in accordance with the cultures and fashions of the time.
Going back to the subject of English in schools, whilst it is necessary for children to learn the basics of communicating successfully through writing, to my mind, an obsessive focus on grammar and the technicalities of writing in order to make test papers measurable, goes against the very essence of what writing should be about: imagination and expressiveness. To engender a love of words and writing, a greater emphasis on reading and creativity, for me, would make much more sense.