Barefoot In the head

If you think so....

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Location: Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

They know no better

An interview of mine published recently in the Telegraph

Produced this, rather interesting, exchange of email:

From: ML
  Sent: 03 August 2013 08:54
  To: Sugata Mitra
  Subject: Your latest pronouncement
  Sir, (or is that unnecessary?)
  You are doing the young people of this country no service by your pronouncements.
  Whatever does "writing in a cryptic way " mean, and do you move in such restricted circles that only people who are like you can understand the code you are using?
  From my experience, spellcheckers and grammar corrections are frequently dependent on the writer's understanding grammar and spelling, anyway.
  I quote the experience of my brother in law, whose daughter, albeit extremely intelligent, was dyslexic.  She would look up spellings in a spellchecker, choose the wrong one and then enter it into the online dictionary.  Her father had frequently to peruse that dictionary and check the spellchecker!
  Apart from practical use, the glory of our language has to be preserved inasfar as it is possible to do so.  I do not know your age, but my husband and I have been involved in computers since they were enormous machines with a room of their owm.  We know that technology changes very rapidly, and whatever statements are made will be out of date very quickly.
  The English language is a beautiful thing when properly used.  When it is not properly used, it is sloppy, careless and often incomprehensible.  Beware of making such statements when you really do not know what you are doing.  Even though I believe that you simply want to get your name in the press, it is dangerous.
  Sincerely (and I am suncere in this)

On 3 Aug 2013, at 09:42, Sugata Mitra wrote:

  Thanks for your mail.
  Of the various responses I got to the Telegraph article, people over the age of 50 were uniformly rude, in perfect English.
  People below the age of 30 seemed happy with the article. "U R Cool'' wrote one.
  The rude ones want to whip the cool ones into submission.
  Sugata Mitra



I do not think that I was rude. To tell you that you are wrong is not rude, it is simply a statement of truth.  If you interpreted my email as rude, you were mistaken.  I simply think you were misguided.  The younger ones, of course, would agree with you: they know no better.  I well remember, when I was teaching (French, not English), that the younger members of the English department often, very often, had to ask me if their use of English was correct, as they were not sure about their own use of English.  I fear that at least two generations of pupils have been neglected.  Perhaps (and please remember, I do not know your age) you were in one of those generations.

I cannot believe that any French professor would be so, well, dismissive of the incorrect use of his or her native language.  I wonder if you suffered from dyslexia.  If so, it is not your fault and you can blame those who did not help you.
Should you ever wish me to help you, please ask.  If I have time, I could even proofread for you.  I have no wish to whip anyone into anything, nor yet to make them submissive.  You are not a professor of English usage and can, perhaps, be excused.

It is a fact, not an opinion, that many people will ignore the skills of a person, if that person's use of language is defective.  I myself, when listening to a speech or presentation, if the speaker uses language badly so that meaning is unclear, will stop listening to the gist of what is being said, and start listening for the errors.  That, no doubt,could be because my life has been spent teaching a language, were it not that my husband, who has never been an educator, is just the same. 

Finally, please remember that you have a successful career.  Your students, whether they like it or not, will be judged not only on their academic success but on their presentation.  If the choice is between two candidates of equal academic value, but one uses ungrammatical language, it might be the cause of his or her being discarded.

Yes, I am old, but I am not senile.

Good luck.  I  hope your career goes from strength to strength.


I was silent and she wrote again.

   From: ML
   Sent: 04 August 2013 08:58
   To: Sugata Mitra
   Subject: A final note
   Obviously, you think you have to have the last word.  And equally obviously, your education has had a bad effect upon you.  What a shame.  We teachers should all be sacked and children left to educate themselves.  What point is there in teaching hoi polloi to communicate effectively with the majority of other people?  Why should we learn other languages when we can communicate  by Iphone?
   And what use  is history?  It is all over and done with!
   Let us abolish geography.  We can see it all on the TV  set or whatever  follows that.
   Surely you, in your job, must realise that most technology becomes obsolete,  relatively quickly.
   However, reading and writing are lifelong skills that only let you down if either you have not learned them or you have not practiced them frequently.
   I know that I am one of the relatively few people who glory in written and spoken good language.  In fact, I am part of a group locally, to whom the local NHS sends leaflets ahead of publication, for correction and the elimination of jargon (which I detest even more than bad grammar).  Why use " going forward' instead of "in the future"? I was one of those who told the NHS that the phrase "Liverpool Death Pathway" was cruel and misleading.
   I know that you will not succeed in your crusade to have grammar eliminated from ths school curriculum.  I believe that you know that and that your aim was to make yourself better known.
   It worked but not, I believe, to your advantage in the end.
   Sorry, I cannot prolong this correspondence.  I must get back to my knitting.
  On 4 Aug 2013, at 11:31, Sugata Mitra wrote:
   Actually I quite agree with most of the things you have said.
   Its just that you didn't understand the difference between 'we don't need to teach spelling' and 'we don't need to learn spelling'. I said the former and not the latter.
   Reading comprehension is a serious problem nowadays :)
   Sugata Mitra

  From: ML
  Sent: 04 August 2013 13:49
  To: Sugata Mitra
  Subject: Re: A final note
  Indeed  I do understand the difference.  But children will not learn in the crowded classrooms of today, unless someone teaches them.
  I learned without being taught because, believe it or not, I have (or rather had) a pretty intelligent mind and a grandmother who devoted all her time to reading to me.  The result was that I astonished visitors by reading at the age of 2 and by 3, my parents had to hide their letters from me as I could read handwriting too.  I had the library tickets for the whole family and, by the age of 9, had exhausted the children's library.  I was given permission at that age to join the adult library.  So, I had  2 great advantages.
   But most children do not have a family member whose time is entirely devoted to them. They come from homes where there are no books and where both parents work.  Indeed, many parents will  have a reading age below 11 years.
  Therefore, my grammar, comprehension and spelling did not have to be taught. Would that all children were like that.  While the present situation exists, we have to teach them.
  Interestingly, when children were taught French through books, they hardly ever made spelling errors in that language.  In about 20 years I met only one pupil who misspelled in French.  it turned out that she was dyslexic.  And, in time, the pupils  also learned to speak French, too and correctly.  I was pretty fluent when I took my exams, yet we had no particular emphasis on speaking.
  Once we started teaching them through an oral method we threw the baby out with the bath water.  They made spelling errors but were no better at speaking, because they were in classes of over 30 and 3 forty minute lessons per week are not enough.  Yet, by A Level (I was  a senior A Level examiner for spoken French, so I travelled around schools and colleges) they were truly fluent.  Their written  French was another matter.  They had not really been taught that, in written work, bad grammar often causes misunderstanding.
  This really is my final missive.  My knitting is being neglected.
On 5 Aug 2013, at 15:25, Sugata Mitra wrote:

  If you knew how to search on the Internet, you would find I am trying to get children their grannies back through technology. Its called the Granny Cloud, and thousands of children in Colombia, India and other places have spent hundreds of hours with their English grannies.
  And yes, children can, and do, teach themselves spelling, grammar and general communication, using the Internet.
  Anyway, I do despise terms like 'moving forward' or 'out of the box'  and all one has to do is ask a group of children if these are good usage or not. No need to teach, be a granny.
  Lastly, I will remember your phrase 'they know no better' with horror. It is this belief with which the Victorians destroyed country after country.....but thats another story.
  Knit away.
  Sugata Mitra

Her last email to me.




Blogger OptimalGB said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 5, 2013 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger OptimalGB said...

Amazing. If I'd read this anywhere else I would have thought it was a Donald Barthelme story. This woman is a true genius, whether she knows better or not.

September 5, 2013 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

Hello Sugata! I've been trying to reach you through ted. I'm going to Kolkata and I would love to see your SOLE work. Please e-mail me

November 27, 2013 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


A fun read! Thanks for sharing!

My favorite part is "I know that you will not succeed in your crusade to have grammar eliminated from ths school curriculum." Ha, it makes you out to be some kind of evil genius.

You seem like a man who likes to ruffle feathers. I too like to do the same.

Perhaps we should have a conversation sometime. Maybe have it when I get the chance to Skype with Suneeta.....

Take Care,

December 24, 2013 at 5:52 AM  

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