The Futility of an Education
I have spent some of the weekend helping our daughter to read made-up words. This is because of a phonics test which all children of her age are required to take. Someone in the government - probably Michael Gove at the time - thought it would be a good idea to ask children to read fictional words rather than real ones. English spelling is difficult enough. These fictional words are referred to as pseudo-words. Here are some examples from last year's test: 'flam', 'voisk', 'quigh' 'jorb', 'herks'. These have been quite difficult to type, as my autocorrect insists that they are other words - real ones. There are about twenty-five of these pseudo-words on the test. Our daughter's teacher has explained to me that many children have an inbuilt autocorrect of their own, and so will read a word incorrectly, saying a real word, rather than the pseudo-word. They will read 'job', for example, rather than 'jorb'. I think these children should receive extra marks rather than be penalised.
About a year ago, an exercise circulated around Facebook that proved we read the words we expect to read rather than the ones on the page. The document replaced some letters with numbers, and it was still possible to make perfect sense from the writing, and read it at a usual speed. For adults this is an entertaining digression which proves how we rarely read what is actually on the page; for children, trying to make sense of made-up words is infuriating. Understandably, our daughter does not enjoy being tested in this way. We've had a couple of tantrums about going to school. I've been sympathetic.
Occasionally, our son expresses his disappointment that the range of subjects he studies at school is not broader. With all the ballet and dance, there is little time for anything other than core subjects. There is no IT, media, or design, The only foreign language he studies is French. I know that he would like to learn Spanish, or German or Latin. However, he has a sound knowledge of Ballet History, and a practical understanding of several European folk dances, including Morris dance, and Hungarian Folk dance. This is how he spends his time when he is not in the Ballet studio or studying the core academic subjects.
I went to an academic school. Not only did we learn Latin, but we spent some time looking at The Odyssey - in English translation, it was a state school, after all. Culturally, we seem to view some subjects as having more value than others. In my adult life, I have used very little of the Latin that I learned at school, and even less of the Physics or Chemistry. Yet, these are perceived as worthy subjects - suggesting that my achievement is the result of valuable intellectual rigour. For our son, I imagine that Folk Dance is a useful subject, and History of Ballet certainly implies an intellectual rigour - depending on how it is taught. To suggest that one subject is more important or useful than another is purely subjective - a view founded in intellectual snobbery and cultural habit.
My daughter, on the other hand, will never have to read made-up words again, and I hope that I never have to type the vile phrase 'pseudo-words' ever again. The sounding out of random made-up words without context is a complete waste of everyone's time.