Readers were probably as amazed as I was to read S. L.'s comment here a few days ago, when she rebuked me for wreaking 'havoc and ill-repute upon the goodly cause of HE'. Why on earth, they might have been justified in asking, was this person writing English in a style which would not have looked out of place in The Duchess of Malfi? The answer is simple. For some reason, many home educators habitually write in a very strange way. Admittedly, not all sound as astonishingly weird as S.L., but many still manage to sound pretty peculiar when commenting on lists and forums or submitting evidence to select committees. They use a very stilted and slightly archaic style, as though they fear that using plain English will make them appear ignorant or naive. In fact of course, this sort of writing creates precisely the opposite effect.
I think that part of the problem is that parents feel that they have to write in a formal or 'posh' way when communicating with officials or saying anything about education. Perhaps they think that ministers, civil servants and teachers will look down on them if they write just as they speak. This is not so; the best written English is natural and unforced. I call this sort of language that so many home educators use as their written medium, 'ill-educated formal', as it is popular with people who do not really know how to express themselves or convey their ideas and so fall back on jargon or long and half-understood words. Mike Fortune-Wood provides some brilliant examples of this. We recall with pleasure one particularly pompous letter which he wrote, which included the phrase 'it ill behoves yourselves'! Perhaps I am doing him an injustice; maybe he speaks to his wife over the breakfast table in this way, although I am inclined to doubt it.
I recently came across the best example of this sort of thing that I have ever seen when reading about home education and felt that I simply had to share it with a wider audience. It is, regrettably, written by people from a university, who really ought to know better. The original document may be found here:
I want to look at one paragraph of this document, because it encapsulates what I have been saying about the forced and inelegant use of language which one often sees when people are writing about home education. My own opinion is that this is not really English at all, although it contains so many loan words from that language that it appears on the face of it to be a passage of English. Let us look at this paragraph, The authors are talking about different kinds of home educating parents in this country:
One substantial and growing group is comprised of those who have abandoned formal schooling because they believe it to be too constrained by the imperatives of performativity and the curriculum limitations imposed on the cultivation of the imagination in consequence thereof. In this group are parents who wish to see a greater emphasis on cultural and aesthetic engagements as well as those who want to see the world brought into learning in an unselfconscious way. What many home schooling families share across their political, religious and cultural differences (and indeed something shared with small school movements) is a significant emphasis on engagement with story. Moreover, there are many home school resource providers who offer curriculum materials that meet nationally determined targets. Most are values-based,
This truly is so dreadful that it has a weird kind of beauty! What can they mean by the 'imperatives of performativity'? One supposes that they mean that children at school are made to demonstrate what they know, to 'perform' in other words. The problem is that the word which they have used 'performativity' has a very precise technical meaning which does not fit this context at all. I think that they have used it because they think it looks grander and more impressive than simply saying 'performing' or 'performance'. What about, 'a significant emphasis on engagement with story.' Does this actually convey any meaning? I know what curriculum materials are which meet nationally determined targets; this is stuff which ties in with the National Curriculum. But how do such materials differ when they are 'values-based'? What about 'in consequence thereof' ? Do these people really not know how hideous and contorted this sounds? Why not 'because' or 'as a result' ?
There is something about the whole subject of home education which seems to attract poor writing and execrable English. Parents can make a start in tackling this by avoiding words like 'thereof' and 'whereby' when they are writing about it; words that no normal human being uses in ordinary speech. When one sees academics like those above writing in this way, it almost looks as though the battle is lost. With examples like this, no wonder ordinary home educating parents are coming on here and writing about 'goodly causes' and 'havoc and ill-repute'!