Since at least the 1990s there has been a belief that the study of English at school isn’t all that important. When I was a teenager, students who prioritised maths over English in their course choices automatically graduated from college (the final two years of high school) with a significantly higher university entrance score, even if they didn’t get a particularly high grade in the subject.
With the recent push for more and more science in schools, an attitude has developed that English is a subject for stupid people. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people in their teens and early twenties refer to English as a “dumb people subject” in recent years.
And now we have this story coming out of New Zealand:
High School students in New Zealand who didn’t know what the word “trivial” meant in an exam question have demanded not to be marked down as a result.
More than 2,600 people signed an online petition over the “unfamiliar” word.
The students were asked to write an essay based on the Julius Caesar quote: “In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”
Examiners said the language used was expected to be within the range of the year 13 students’ vocabulary.
If people in this world had better reading, comprehension and analytical skills, fewer people would be so susceptible to Russian propaganda and far-right conspiracies. If more people were better at English (or whatever their native language is), and better able to understand the rights and wrongs of the media they come across, we wouldn’t end up with people like Donald Trump running this world.
English isn’t for “dumb people”, and people with poor language skills shouldn’t brag about being smarter than those of us who read and write.