Monthly Archives: July 2012
English has always been changing. Its adaptability made it a global language. However, not everything is a plus.
Since I emigrated from England, schools there have begun calling children “students”. The traditional term “pupil” is still used, but there is no denying a trend towards its complete replacement. This is especially true in the so-called “academies” (another “newsspeak” from the Blair government).
The switch to “student” instead of “pupil” seems to be deliberate. I ascertain as much from correspondence I had last year with someone in the teaching profession. Those using it have without doubt good intentions, feeling that the word better conveys respect for the children in their care than does “pupil”. However, it is a mistake that impoverishes the language – as well as the very pupils it seeks to benefit.
What this does is to demean the word “student”. The distinction between a pupil and a student is vanishing. Now if school leavers are lucky enough to go into higher education – which is what educators ought to be concentrating on – there will be no special word to describe their new status as students.
Giving schoolchildren the same word as students at a university or college is like giving your teenage son or daughter all of their inheritance now before they have grown up. Once the money is gone, it is gone!
So yes “pupil” does denote a slightly different status than “student”, and since music students have always been the pupils of their instrumental tutors this term is by no means demeaning. Yet being a “student” implies equality in the relationship to the teacher; and it is actually disrespectful to those who are not equal in a teaching relationship (I am thinking of the children and not the teachers here) to use terms and words that disingenuously imply otherwise. If it were not this equality one were seeking to convey, then why is the word “student” now so trendy?
While individual teachers are undoubtedly both professional and well meaning, there is something systematically dishonest about the whole change to calling schools “academies”.
The language is a deceptive “newspeak” worthy of George Orwell! By changing the word, just as with the word “student”, many educators seem to be taken in by their own sense of importance – and we have now arrived at the farcical situation where principles and their staff that ought to be setting an example have by their consistency rewritten what is right and wrong about capitalisation!
Of course the word “academy” does not require a capital letter any more than the words “university”, or “school”. Yet such is the delusion of grandeur the word has bestowed, that hardly anyone seems to have noticed the fact! Had I once written so many capitals as are to be seen on the web pages and periodicals from England’s new academies my teachers would have spent many an hour ringing them all in red ink.
This capital punishment, lingual dishonesty, and political correctness is therefore flawed. That is not to say failing schools cannot be made better, but it is at the expense of the language. What is worse, any real attainments will therefore be devalued by this very pretence in the demeaned terms with which one can communicate one’s achievement to others.