The Death of English…Grading Relatively…The Beauty of Spring…
We applaud the efforts of Pope Benedict to revive the Latin Mass. But he does not go far enough. At Priceton.org, we encourage the revival of Latin, period. As for the revival of English, in either written or spoken form, we are much less hopeful.
Let’s face it. Grammatical English is dead. It was run over by the pedagogical juggernaut of the 1960’s, and it’s been rotting on the shoulder of society ever since. It’s time to pick up the stinking carcass and bury it.
Grade inflation is like the weather: everybody complains about it but no one is willing to do anything. Actually, the word “inflation” hardly does justice to the problem. Inflation means that the price of a commodity is increasing whereas its intrinsic value remains the same. But in skule, “prices” have been going up even as value has been plummeting. For the past half-century, every new class of undergraduates has come to university with a slightly more perfunctory acquaintance with the intellectual and cultural patrimony of the West, a diminished aptitude for independent thinking, and ever deteriorating literary skills; and each new class has transited with more exalted grades. Quite a trick. The only political regimes that have managed to achieve that kind of inflation have been those that manufactured Ladas and Yugos, every year’s model worse than the last, and at a cost of five years’ wages.
Today, even if, say, the best essay in the bunch is less articulate than the monster in Mel Brooks’ Frankenstein, you are more or less expected to give it an A. It’s called grading relatively. Some years ago, having received a particularly fetid batch of papers, I submitted grades ranging from C+ to D-. (I thought I was being generous; there ought to have been several F’s, but not even I can resist the invincible Zeitgheist of self-esteem.) An avuncular colleague in the English Department reminded me that this was the twenty-first century, after all. Following a little sermon fecund with phrases such as “disadvantaged minorities”, “broken families”, “urban poverty”, the “Harris government’s underfunding” (of everything), he suggested that I ought to re-evaluate students relative to the class as a whole. “Relative to the class as a whole, the essays ranged from bad to execrable”, I replied. For some reason, this response did not satisfy him.
All the signs are there that spring has finally arrived in Toronto. The tulips are on display; so are the disjecta of the returning Canada Geese; Nature has removed the snow from the side streets, redeeming Mayor Miller’s perennial promise; the punks in their tarted-up Honda Civics have their stereos cranked up and their windows down, deafening entire neighbourhoods rather than just themselves; the Leafs have just fired their coach; and, with the advent of the warmer weather, the national strip-athon is well underway.
While heading to class the other day in the Subaru Deforester, I happened to tune into the Commodities Report on the radio. Something about pork backs and bellies—either a shortage or a glut, I think. As I stepped out of the car, I was visually inundated by the annual tsunami of female corpulence as it heaved and crested between low-slung jeans and shrunken tee-shirts. The half-understood words of the Commodities Report came back to me. And I wondered in kind, Is there a worldwide shortage of mirrors?