The First Freedom
by: The Contrarian
Education is an ongoing blunder in South Africa and possibly the nation’s greatest embarrassment, says the ardent and outspoken unofficial News24 critic, The Contrarian!
I’m not the only one whose face turns red with shame when the Matric pass rate goes up. Like most I reflect on how much the standard must have gone down to generate this misleadingly optimistic upward trend in the statistics. At the core of education is language, which is the conduit by which knowledge passes into the mind of the student. Later on, through language, the educated are to impart their minds' creations to an unsupportive world.
Contrary to the enduring fallacy, the wheel was not our species’ greatest invention! Our language actually is, and that was what allowed the wheel’s inventor to pass his genius on to others. This process started (and dominates) human civilization. It therefore also has the power to stop our civilization in its tracks.
If you reflect the advances Homo sapiens have made, you may notice language underpins it all; for the moment we invent something new, we have to explain to someone else how to build it cheaply and then to others why they should buy and use our invention. Language is the conduit for society’s advancement, and I think we should all start taking our speech and writing a bit more seriously!
If any other animal but humans had access to sophisticated language, then the sparks of genius of a few members of the tribe may actually become the culture and history of new generations—a bedrock, if you will, on which they can build even more impressive structures. That is the only mental faculty separating us from our cousins the chimpanzees; it is most definitely NOT the supposed divine fart-cloud permeating our body, the soul, which has never been demonstrated to exist and is only believed in by the more primitive element of our species.
Language, to me, truly embodies the intellectual’s creed, “You can imprison my body but not my mind!”
A surprising medical fact is that language is frequently the only memory that shines through the fog of amnesia. You can wake up after your traumatising accident and remember nothing of your former life, but you’ll be able to converse with medical staff, relatives, and friends with the same fluency as you could before your accident. I think that shows us just how deeply seated language is in us. It is literally hardwired into our brains.
Language is our first freedom and empowerment. It is only once we can talk that we can truly articulate our needs and commands. Only when we can speak sufficiently well can we can tell our parents and our caretakers that we are hungry, not tired, or bored, not thirsty. The outcome and success of every negotiation and explanation you will undertake will depend largely on your mastery of language. Later in life, the first pickup line you use on a crush of yours may subsequently rid you of the virginity condition, or force you to endure it for longer.
But there are those for whom language is but a malformed or shriveled-up appendage that serves more as a handicap than an actual advantage.
The ANC’s ranks largely comprises of the unlettered and the confused. Thus, most South African’s have come to accept the tardiness and oversight that plagues South Africa’s education system. Textbooks are not delivered on time (or at all) to certain schools; the ANCYL illiterati warn teachers to look for the underlying comprehension in the students’ confused scrawl, because English may not be the pupil’s first language. But how else will we teach the masses of the advanced concepts that cannot be described or explained in less sophisticated or less precise languages?
You may think this is a moot point and merely the obsession of an English grammar Nazi, but I’ll prove to you how important this point is by directing your attention to a past vocalisation of Julias Malema (the then president of the ANCYL—now a garden worker). Who can forget when he unequivocally stated—during the athletic world’s reflection on Caster Semenya’s gender ambiguity—that he does not believe that hermaphrodites exist because there is no equivalent for that word in his native language.
What’s next, a president that says he does not believe in democracy because the word did not originate in any African language? It may later transcend language and become a cultural excuse, as was so beautifully demonstrated by our former health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who would not allow treatment for AIDS victims because in her opinion, traditional African medicine was so advanced it could with beetroot and potatoes cure any diseases!
I can’t reasonably think that she actually understood the World Health Organization’s reports and documents regarding the progression of HIV to AIDS and the then latest advances in antiretroviral treatment. Reading with comprehension is a lot different from just reading.
Like economic poverty, linguistic poverty can severely limit a person’s mental exploration and discovery. I don’t think people realise just how foolish poor language mastery can make them seem.
1337 (pronounced ‘leet’ a dyslexic version of ‘elite’) Speak may be fashionable on twitter or in an SMS conversation with your pals, but those are the only two domains where one can (and even should) use contracted and mutated English. The moment you take that dialect and put it on your CV or job application that is when you look like a 4chan moron in heat! It is not so much a case of there not being work for the youth as it is a case of there not being work for the illiterate youth!
If one cannot construct complex sentences, then one cannot think complex thoughts and the first step to solving a complex problem is to mentally dissect it and accurately describe its components. Think of every time you tried to explain something complex to someone and found yourself unable to convey the message. To the observer you may appear to not understand the subject yourself, but perhaps it’s only your inability to articulate your thoughts properly. We all hit a blank every now and again, but for some people the blank is the dominant state of consciousness.
If you take anything away from this article, then I hope it is this: As much as you can, fight the urge to use clichés! The media and marketers have brought their colourless, vague, and imprecise use of language to the masses. The consistency these two pillars of linguistic sterility claim is but the result of them imbibing what they had vomited up before. This process constitutes the dimly lit torch that journalists and marketers use to shed some light on whatever subject they wish to reveal to their audience. I can’t remember when last I felt a piece of advertising or media scribble impart on me the sense that an intelligent and well-educated being was the author thereof.
Finally, dismiss the opinions and advice of grumpy, old teachers and librarians. These self-appointed custodians of our language have lost their relevance and influence. While they swoon over outdated poetry and overly loquacious literature, they overlook both the ongoing evolution and academic accuracy of language. We must make it a priority to reclaim our language from the bitter, abusive, bespectacled old hags of grammar, spelling, and punctuation! Sexual abstinence is not a prerequisite to mastering a language, and the wooden spoon and rod are not tools suited for imparting literacy to the youth. Perhaps it is this mentality of blikseming (beating) an education into students that is to blame for so many growing up and hating knowledge in its totality!