Sunday, January 18, 2015

English grammar and social theory

Being able to speak correctly your mother tongue and knowing its grammar are totally different kettles of fish. The former is acquired by virtue of growing up in a certain linguistic environment, the latter is a an abstract skill that takes a substantial educational effort. The difference is the same as between experiencing gravity since your birth (animals do that too!) and being able to explain it in words (takes some education in Physics, far from everyone does that).

Many of my students, British kids from solid middle-class backgrounds, never get to learn English grammar at school, which, in my opinion, deprives them of the chance to develop a level of abstract thinking required for university students, to realise that apart from the obvious, superficial level of existence, there's a structural level, which may not be visible, yet is extremely important to be aware of. Such kids invariably struggle with learning social theory, because it takes grasping exactly that level of abstraction.

When I talk to their parents who, thanks to having enjoyed a more "old-fashioned" kind of education, do happen to know the difference between an adjective and a noun, I realise, on the micro-level, what the educational trend for replacing training in critical and abstract thinking for learning a trade to "finish school, get a job and pay taxes" is doing to this society. People who can't access reality critically, who can't see beyond the obvious or what they are told, become a docile flock that can be duped into literally anything: mindless consumerism, media-instigated xenophobia, unnecessary wars, giving up on hard-earned civil liberties and labour rights, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Just look around and see for yourself.

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