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Have Literacy Standards Taken A Nosedive?

Schools across Britain are reporting that students who sat GCSEs in English have been ‘harshly marked down’, as a result of this year’s GCSE A*-C results falling for the first time in the exam’s history. One headteacher has condemned the GCSE exam board as being ‘unfair’, and claims that her ‘pupils have had their life chances damaged’.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has always alleged that the value of GCSEs and A-levels has been corroded by the “dumbing down” of exams, and the over-generous awarding of grades.

The question is, have standards genuinely fallen, or were this year’s GCSE exams particularly harsh?

There has been much speculation in previous years about exam standards becoming progressively easier. It always seemed difficult to believe that Britain’s teenagers were getting increasingly more intelligent every single year, particularly as there have been conflicting reports suggesting that literacy standards have been falling in Britain since 2005.

Although it is considered “cool” for teenagers to type in “text talk”, what implications might this have upon literacy standards – if at all? Arguably, if one is not reading quality literature, or writing at a high standard on a regular basis, it is very easy to fall into a situation where spelling standards decline, and writing standards do not progress as quickly. I do not suppose the US English spelling, which is so commonplace on the internet, helps terribly much, either.

Furthermore, consider the poor quality of writing in the ‘Twilight’ series of books, which are ever so popular with today’s teenagers. When teenagers are familiarising themselves with the following examples of syntactical car-crashes, colloquialisms, and appalling overuse of adjectives, would it really surprise us if we discovered that English standards are falling?

“He leaned in slowly, the beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lips even touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the beeping stopped altogether.”

“Time passes. Even when it seems impossible. Even when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does. Even for me.”

“He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.”

This bizarre adjective reduplication also takes the cake:

“He was both dazzling and dazzled.”

Perhaps incorporating the study of one of the ‘Twilight’ books into the National Curriculum would not be such a bad idea; not because the books are an example of quality writing, but because they are actually very good examples of a poor writing style that teenagers should be taught not to emulate in their own writing. As some of the more “eloquent” teenagers are already reading the books recreationally, why not use ‘Twilight’ as an opportunity to educate teenagers in what not to do, in a manner that will actually be enjoyable for most of them, and will thus be easier for them to relate with. Moreover, although somewhat off the topic of English studies, the ‘Twilight books might also be a useful learning text for PSE (Personal and Social Education) classes, as the ‘Twilight’ books also send out the wrong message about relationships. For example, the main character, Bella, abandons a number of things (school, her relationships with others) in order to allow her entire existence to be engrossed in her adoration for Edward, resulting in an underlying message that almost makes it seem “cool” for a girl to allow herself to be defined by a boy she obsesses over. Maybe it would be a good idea to let teenagers realise how destructive such a mindset could be.

Back to the topic of English, the following examples discovered on Twitter may just about sum up the general standard of some teenagers’ literacy:

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A tweet posted by @AngryBritain, which commented on the TV programme, ‘X-Factor, lead to the angry response of a teenager who, it would appear, was previously uninformed as to the definition of the word “snigger”. She was, therefore, under the false impression that the tweet read the word “nigger”, instead of ‘snigger’.

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Something tells me she may have been right about that…

I rest my case.

‘Hate peepz who typ lyk dis’? The Reason Why Text-Type May Be More Scholarly Than You Think.

Just a quick glance at the Facebook page or Twitter feed of today’s modern teenagers gives us an insight into today’s standard of English literacy. “Y do teenz lyk 2 typ lyk dis”? Alas, I do not think the elder generations will ever really understand the trend.

Maybe “dis way of writin” could actually be considered more scholarly than we care to believe. Perhaps the English language is merely reverting back to Old English or Frisian! Fashions do, after all, repeat themselves, and maybe the same is beginning to happen with regards the English language.

Just a moment ago, I was reading an old book that I stumbled across: ‘The Cambridge History of the English Language: (Vol 1): the Beginnings to 1066’ by Richard M. Hogg, and was reminded how Frisian, a West Germanic language spoken in the province of Friesland, Netherlands, and parts of northern Germany, is the closest relative of English. In fact, Frisia was once a powerful and independent kingdom from the c.7th century, but lost its independence by the 15th century.

To summarise, Old English and Frisian were, at one time, mutually intelligible. After the Battle of Hastings, English became influenced by Norman French, whilst Frisian became influenced more by the Dutch language. Frisian is similar to English in that both languages are rich in vowels, diphthongs and triphthong; but unlike Germanic languages, have nasal vowels, similar to Afrikaans. The Frisian “r” is similar to the English alveolar “r”, as opposed to an uvular sound in German or Dutch.

An extract from ‘Beowulf’, a poem written in Old English.

I was interested to hear the languages spoken, and a search on YouTube led me to a rather interesting documentary presented by Eddie Izzard, that was previously part of a series called ‘Mongrel Nation’, once featured on The Discovery Channel. In one of episode, Eddie Izzard learnt a few Old English phrases, and subsequently took a trip to Friesland to meet a local Frisian-speaking farmer. Interestingly, Izzard asked the farmer if he could buy a cow, speaking in Old English, and the farmer understood most of the conversation. An excerpt from the series can be found here.

To understand my observation about teenagers’ “text talk” being similar to Old English or Frisian, just observe the following example:

Frisian: Ik wolde net lyk it te rein oer de neist wyk.
English: I would not like it to rain over the next week.

Notice any similarities there? (“lyk” = “like”, etc.)

Also, notice how in spoken English, certain regional dialect tends to be a little sloppy by dropping letters from the ends of words. Thus, observe the following:

Frisian: Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk
English: Butter, bread and green cheese is good English and good Frisian

I am sure if teenagers realised that their style of writing/speaking  is scholarly enough to be comparable to Old English or Frisian, the latest trend of “text talk” would soon appear less “cool”, and perhaps we might gradually see it begin to fizzle out.

I am sure that would come as a relief to some of us.

If the English language is reverting back to Old English, perhaps Old English fashion will also repeat itself? Who reckons we’ll be seeing this example of 11th century “chic” worn by today’s teenagers…? … Maybe not.

Filthy Shades Of Dismay

Every other day, there is yet another story in The Guardian surrounding the controversy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It would appear the world is obsessed by the book. The latest news report is about a women’s refuge, which has deemed the bestselling ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy as “an instruction manual for an abusive individual to sexually torture a vulnerable young woman”. The erotic novel is claimed to “normalise abuse, degrade women and encourage sexual violence”, according to Clare Phillipson, who is the director of Wearside Women In Need. So passionate is her belief, she is urging people to burn their copies of the book on a bonfire, stating that, “Some of what happens in the book, Fred West did to victims in his cellar.”

And what if one owns the Kindle Edition? – Should one also throw their Kindle onto the bonfire?

With all the hype and controversy surrounding the book, I finally succumbed to speed-reading it. I was, after all, the only woman my age I know personally, who had categorically refused to read the book – based purely upon my passionate dislike of smutty “romance” novels, not to mention a book where the “heroine” is portrayed as weak. However, I realised that I was shunning a novel without having actually read it. Thus, it was only fair that I read the book before judging it, even though I had no real interest in reading the book.

And my verdict after reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’…? – I only wish I could unread it!

E. L. James’ book depicts the sexual relationship between the virginal college student, Anastasia Steele, and her obsessive love and sexual submission to Christian Grey, a handsome billionaire with a predilection for bondage and domination. He is a man whom she scarcely knows, and who briskly introduces her to his sexual fetishes and the contents of his “Red Room of Pain”.

The prose, to be quite frank, is shocking. For example:

“Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms… coming apart at the seams like the spin cycle of a washing machine, wow.

Right… And how exactly does a washing machine come ‘apart at the seams’? In fact, how is an orgasm anything like the spin cycle of a washing machine? Yet, two ‘spin cycle’ orgasms are not enough, as Ana wants more. Grey has a really radical idea of how to spice things up…

‘”I’m going to take you from behind, Anastasia”, he murmurs…’

Fabulous…  And, the “poetic” writing does not stop there:

“I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the meringue with some salsa moves.”

After yet another a sadomasochistic romp, I started to wonder if maybe the book should be renamed “Fifty Lays Per Day”.  Naturally, the author had to bestow this additional literary nugget upon us:

“We lie there, panting together, waiting for our breathing to slow. He gently strokes my hair … Boy … I Survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought. My inner goddess is prostrate … well, at least she’s quiet.”

When there are so many fine writers, and interesting books and articles out there, one grudges wasting time reading such poorly written prose. As a result of reading this book, my “inner goddess” (to quote Ana’s words) was not so quiet, and did the “meringue” all the way to the metaphorical toilet! I subsequently decided that it is perhaps best if I give the rest of the trilogy a miss.

Despite my initial reluctance to read the book, and my subsequent distaste, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the fastest selling book since records began, and is the first ebook to sell more than one million copies. It makes me question if the female population have gone mad, or whether it is perhaps I who is the weird one for not succumbing to the latest hype. On the contrary, it would appear I’m not the only one.

A number of feminists have slammed the book, and yesterday’s news article in The Guardian summarised the book as being about:

 ‘A domestic violence perpetrator, taking someone who is less powerful, inexperienced, not entirely confident about the area of life she is being led into, and then spinning her a yarn. Then he starts doing absolutely horrific sexual things to her … He gradually moves her boundaries, normalising the violence against her. It’s the whole mythology that women want to be hurt’. In fact, the head of domestic violence charity, believes the book to be ‘a misogynistic handbook that peddles a dangerous message.’

However, what if the roles were reversed, and the heroine were a dominatrix, and Christian Grey were a sub? It makes me wonder if there would be the same level of controversy surrounding the topic of a sadomasochistic relationship raised by the book. I sometimes wonder if some women almost want to be victims. From a young age, girls are warned to “never talk to “strangers” – “strangers” usually meaning men who are unfamiliar to them. Thus, from a young age, females are almost brainwashed into feeling fearful of potentially being abused by men. It would appear that women almost subconsciously believe it is normal to be sexually inferior to men, and it is as though it almost becomes normal to complain about “subliminal messages” of abuse, or even go as far as being the victims of abuse. As a result, a number of innocent men can sometimes be deemed to be potential abusers, thus also making them just as much a victim of society as women. Ironically, research has shown that women can be just as, if not more violent, than men. Nevertheless, it is still a worry that this book may appeal to the inherent maternal instincts of certain young women, who may subconsciously, and naively believe the message portrayed in ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’; a message that suggests that if one loves a “broken man” enough, he will recover from his psychopathic tendencies. Sadly, it takes more than love to change a person’s psychology.

Despite the traditional theories of Krafft-Ebing and Freud, et al., it is important to understand that sadomasochistic relationships are not necessarily related to psychopathic tendencies. Although Christian Grey is depicted as a man with a troubled past, which has taken a toll on his mental state; in reality, research suggests there is no difference in mental health difficulties between those who practice BDSM, and the rest of the population. In fact, the findings of two studies at the Northern Illinois University into hormonal changes associated with Sadomasochistic activities suggest that it has the potential to bring consenting couples closer together, when combined with displays of caring and affection. (Brad Sagarin et al (2009)) http://www.niu.edu/user/tj0bjs1/papers/scclm09.pdf, http://pubget.com/paper/18563549 and http://pubget.com/paper/18563549

A study undertaken in 2006 by Cross and Matheson found no support for the traditional theories by Krafft-Ebing and Freud that sadomasochism is a mental illness. However, the study found that SM participants were overall more likely than non-SM respondents to report bisexual/homosexual orientations. Furthermore, sadomasochists were relatively more likely to be in ongoing relationships than the comparison group.(Patricia A. Cross PhD and Kim Matheson PhD in the book “Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures” (2006), published simultaneously as the Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 50, Nos. 2/3.)

Results from a research project by Dr. Pamela Connolly, et al., also reported that:

‘no evidence was found to support the notion that clinical disorders – including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsion – are more prevalent among the sample of individuals with BDSM interests than among members of the general population. Moreover, this sample did not show evidence of widespread PTSD, trauma-related phenomena, personality disturbances, psychological sadism or psychological masochism”, disorders in which the sufferer either derives pleasure out of genuine cruelty (not the play-acting kind) or compulsively seeks out harmful levels of pain. ”Similarly, no prominent themes were found in a series of profile analyses.’

And:

‘There were, however, some exceptions to this general pattern, most notably the higher-than-average levels of nonspecific dissociative symptoms and narcissism in this sample. That said, this body of findings suggests that, contrary to longstanding assumptions in the psychoanalytic literature, there is very little support for the view that psychopathology underlies behavior.’

Incidentally, Arrow, the publisher of ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, has also defended the trilogy, describing it as “a work of romantic fiction which explores a consensual relationship between two willing adult participants”.

Should we therefore take the book as being nothing but a fictional account of an erotic love story? After all, women have the right to their personal fantasies and choice of erotic fiction, and if it opens doors to new arousal templates, helps people feel less judgmental of others, or helps women feel more secure about their secret sexual desires, then surely that is great. Or is it? – How does this effect men? Conversely, the book is not about sex; it is about power.

If “everyone is reading it”, what is it about the book that is so appealing? It would appear that its power lies in the way the book relates with the fantasies of women readers who secretly relish the opportunity to embody the role of the book’s protagonist, Ana, and her ability to surrender her will to her dominant lover. In submitting to her lover, Ana actually finds both love and happiness; and isn’t love and happiness the two things that every woman wants? Furthermore, the  power often lies with the submissive partner. It would appear that most women like the idea of a dominant man who will be the one responsible for matters. One glance at the real world indicates that dominant men are not quite so powerful after all. I don’t suppose anybody’s safe-word is “banker”!

However, the underlying problem is what this book may have led men to believe about what women really want from their lover, especially as many men already feel uncertain as to what their role in society should be. There is now the issue of  some men perhaps believing that they should behave like sadists, thinking that is what all women secretly fantasise about. I am sure the book has become mens’ idea of ‘Fifty Shades of Fear’. After all, if women want “equality”, only to suddenly want submission, then does that mean women have now changed their minds about wanting equality? Have they repealed what the feminists fought for, or does “equality” now mean men should also behave submissively when they spontaneously feel like it, or when a woman thinks a man should, or should men be “strong and dominant” at all times?  It would appear that there is some confusion amongst the male population. I even witnessed the chap next to me reading the following article on the train: ‘So Do Women Really Want Us All To Be Sadists Now?’

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Sadly, human beings really are like a herd of sheep. If something is popular, or in fashion, then everyone else will follow suit, even pretending to like something, rather than feel isolated for being the odd one out. So, fear not chaps, as not all women will genuinely want a sadist. At least you have it on good authority that the author of the article you are currently reading, most certainly does not!

More to the point, perhaps people should communicate more, and maybe if people tried behaving like decent human beings who treat others with respect, perhaps many of our insecurities and uncertainties about what our partners want, would diminish. As long as BDSM is a purely consensual act between a couple who both genuinely wish to engage in the act, and have mutually decided who will take on the role of dominant/submissive, and how far to take the act, then it is nobody else’s business to judge.

Why A Nurse Led “Accident Centre” Defies Common Sense.

On 6th August, 2012, Hywel Dda Health Board published the outcome of their 12- week consultation, for the future plans for A&E department at Llanelli’s Prince Philip Hospital. It has been proposed that the department should become a special “accident centre staffed by nurses”.

In the latest development of the future of Prince Philip Hospital’s A&E, it has been reported that the proposed plans are now in the preparation stages for further review by independent management consultants, who specialise in NHS services.

Llanelli Rural Council has reportedly written to the health board Chief Executive, Mr Trevor Purt, to seek further information over its plans for hospital services.

Council Leader, Cllr Bill Thomas, stated: “The Council will need to spend some time carefully analysing the consultation documentation, particularly ‘Technical Document 5 – Emergency and Urgent Care’. This is an important document which purports the notion of Prince Phillip Hospital having a nurse led Local Accident Centre instead of a doctor led A & E service, unlike the other three hospital sites under the umbrella of the health board, where effectively no change to A & E service is being advocated. We fully intend to scrutinise the supporting evidence to ensure there are no gaps or omissions which might prevent us from potentially proceeding with drawing up our own options for A & E services at Prince Phillip Hospital”.

This statement comes amid reports revealing how Hywel Dda NHS Trust’s medical negligence payout figures have risen sharply from £1,645,000 in 2010, to £4,682,746 in 2012. This has raised some public concerns as to whether a nurse led accident centre in Llanelli could result in the burden of even more future negligence costs on Hywel Dda NHS Trust, resulting from delays in future emergency treatment.

Not only has this emerged during the revelation of medical negligence costs, but during the recent report of how patients needing emergency, or unplanned medical care in the relatively near county of Neath Port Talbot, will no longer be able to receive A&E treatment at Neath Port Talbot Hospital, due to a shortage of doctors. Instead, patients will be will be admitted to neighbouring hospitals, possibly resulting in overcrowding, as four-in-five of the Neath Port Talbot A&E admissions will be transferred to Swansea, with the rest admitted to the Princess of Wales Hospital, in Bridgend.

Perhaps the Hywel Dda Health Board will observe the potential problems faced by Swansea, as extra ‘999’ admissions are referred to them from Neath Port Talbot. Problems, which it is feared, will be mirrored at Prince Philip Hospital and Carmarthen General Hospital, if the decision to make it a nurse led centre is upheld. As one protester, Samantha Jones*, stated: “It is all well and good having a 24-hr centre for a nurse to bandage a patient’s grazed knee, or to remove a splinter, or to advise a patient with tonsillitis to remain well hydrated and gargle their throat with Difflam; but for the patients experiencing a major heart attack or a haemorrhage, and in need of urgent and immediate medical attention, a nurse led centre just does not fit the bill.”

Only one week ago, the waiting time to see an A&E practitioner at Carmarthen General Hospital was 7+ hours. If Prince Philip Hospital were to become only a nurse staffed centre, how much longer might the waiting times to see an A&E doctor be in Carmarthen be, if the influx of what would have been Prince Philip Hospital patients, are taken to Carmarthen?

Locals have observed how the road from Llanelli to Carmarthen General Hospital is less than smooth. Not only will the extra driving time cost lives, but as Llanelli resident, Julie Thomas, has commented, “the rutted, potholed, country roads, are less than acceptable conditions for a patient with a severe head and spinal injury, to be transported in the back of a bouncing ambulance, for a 20-mile ride from Llanelli.”

Hywel Dda Health Board is reported to have said its proposals would see Prince Philip Hospital become a specialist centre for orthopaedic and dementia care. Protester John Hughes commented, “Whilst these proposals may, indeed, be very welcome, it does not distract from the issue that Llanelli, and its mix of both young and aging population, desperately need an A&E department offering full emergency medical care, with a team of doctors on board.”

To ensure the Hywel Dda Health Board are in no doubt about the public outcry, Saturday 18th August saw approximately 80 locals combine a rally commemorating the shooting of two workers 101-year demonstration, with a march in support of Llanelli’s Prince Phillip Hospital.

Labour AM Keith Davies has stated that the board “must listen to the public”, but also noted that if there is no choice but to downgrade, doctors should be in charge rather than nurses.

Ironically, it was not so long ago that we witnessed the NHS portrayed as a good news story, when it featured as part of a grand display in the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony’s showcase of  ‘Best of British’. Let us hope that Prince Philip Hospital A&E department will remain as such, and that Hywel Dda Health Board will take note.

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Current average waiting time to see an A&E practitioner at Carmarthen General Hospital is 7+ Hours

Fashion Trumps Functionality

Last week, I came across a news article in the Huffington Post about the All Round Women’s Gymnastics Olympics Champion, Gabby Douglas. Apparently there has been some criticism about her hair!

Such articles really make one question the mentality of modern society. Not only is Douglas the first American female to win the title, but she is also the first African-American Olympic gymnast. Despite this wonderful historical achievement, it would appear that society places greater importance on fashion and beauty.

 

What is particularly strange, is that Douglas wears her hair in the exact same style as all the other gymnasts, so what is there to debate?

Perhaps there are a number of people who are (a) jealous (b) resent that a black athlete is the first to become the US ladies gymnastics champion in a predominantly Caucasian or Asian sport, and (c) there is perhaps some kind of concealed racism behind it. Or, perhaps the media are so obsessed with how women look, that they choose to ignore a person’s achievements? However, as long as the media have a market to sell stories to, they will continue to sell on demand. Should we perhaps, then, blame the public? For as long as the public buy into fashion trends, the media will focus on selling features based on fashion.

Gymnasts, no matter what their colour, nationality, etc., need to wear their hair off their face, otherwise it will fall into their eyes, and affect their performance. Yet, it would appear that obsession with beauty has made the public ignorant to the importance of functionality over fashion. The same could be said about physique. An athlete will develop a certain physique as a result of specialised training, so that they have the correct muscle formation for their particular sport. A marathon runner will naturally develop a very slender physique, which they need in order to be light enough to move swiftly and use less energy. A female weightlifter will need to be more “top-heavy”, just like a man, in order to have the strength to lift heavy weights. Yet, society will judge those athletes for looking emaciated or too masculine, respectively.

The sooner people stopped judging upon appearances and appreciated a person for their minds, personality, and achievements, the better. Alas, a preoccupation with beauty has been a feature of society for many centuries (one need only take a look at the numerous great works of art, and painted portraits that have been painted throughout history), and thus is unlikely to change any time soon.