As I reflect today, I link a viral video of a road accident, a cockroach infestation in an apartment, and a forum letter about the public standard of English.
Late last week a local dashcam video went viral. It was of a female pedestrian being hit by a taxi while crossing the road even though the light was in her favour.
If you asked just five people what they thought, you would likely have got five different opinions. There are many comments at the original Facebook page.
Some people blame the pedestrian for not being more aware of her surroundings or say she should not have been looking at her phone while crossing. I agree that she could have been more careful, but that muddles the issue and dilutes the blame.
The issue is the carelessness of the driver; the blame is on the driver. The car approached from the left and rear of the woman. Even if she was not on the phone, she would have needed eyes on the sides of her head to have seen the car coming.
Complex situations rarely have clear answers. But if this was a court case, the law has clear standards. In this case, the standard was that the pedestrian had the right of way. As stupid as it is to not pay attention to the road while crossing it, it is not the time to focus on mobile walking.
Mobile walking is an issue and new standards must be negotiated to address it. But let us not muddle the issues or dilute the blame.
The road accident happened in the blink of an eye, the infestation was, by one account, at least 16 years in the making.
In separate accounts, everyone except the couple staying at the “roach motel” claims to have tried to do something. These include the children of the couple (who moved out when they grew up); the neighbours (who have to deal with the problem on a daily basis and are stuck with the problem); and various authorities (who the rest look to but seem quite powerless).
Interestingly, it seemed to require a viral video of the infestation for authorities to take concerted action.
However you look at it, the overriding issue is public health and safety. That is the standard to consider first before neighborliness, being tolerant, or social intervention.
All that said, even with standards of public housing and soft social contracts in place, the infestation was allowed to happen. Everyone involved, even the poor neighbours, had some role in letting the infestation grow.
Let us not muddle the issue. The blame is shared.
— Angela Faye OON (@AngelaOonEDU) April 29, 2015
In #edsg, there is a lively debate following this tweet.
The plea is straightforward: Can something be done to arrest the slide in English as spoken and written here? The writer is not the first to bring this up and she will not be the last. This time round, the examples that were cited included public signs and the poor problem-definition of the viral Cheryl’s birthday math/logic problem.
The debate on #edsg is likely to confuse. Note that depending on how tweeps replied, some responses might not be captured in the thread.
The issues of language acquisition and evolution are complex to say the least. The issues are muddled and it is tempting to lay blame to single sources.
The blame is shared and we must be honest about the problem, accepting the blame, and collectively designing solutions.
The problem is very public. It is only viewed as a problem if there are standards and standard bearers. The writer was brave enough to stand up and be counted.
The problem is also one that developed over a long time, longer than the behaviours that caused the roach infestation. It is an insidious one: Not as immediate and shocking as the traffic accident, and even harder to detect than hoarding behind closed doors.
The problem could be more obvious. If it is not, a week of critically examining posters, brochures, or public notices will reveal the problem. Alternatively, a simple Google search of Cheryl’s birthday explanations and critical examination of those explanations will reveal how language is fused with logic. It will also show how those with a better command of the language are better at defining and solving the problem.
From a systemic perspective, it is important to peel away the symptoms (grammatically poor notices and bad explanations) and find the root problems.
While the home environment is a critical start for language acquisition and formation, it is not a pivot point that system managers can manipulate easily. However, they have greater control as to what happens in schools and para-education (tuition, libraries, museums, etc.). Kids spend much of their time in such environments and there are standards for instruction here.
As educators of a nation, teachers, private tutors, and para-educators might have to own up to feeling “uncool” to have and maintain standards of English. For example, teachers might say that if they speak proper English, they risk not connecting with their students.
Our educators must maintain standards of English. I do not mean this in a muddy-duddy way, but because it is the right thing to do. By “fuddy-duddy” I mean blindly or stubbornly following tradition. By “doing the right thing” I mean recognizing that language evolves but also realizing that clear communication must exist for the sake of transnational and transgenerational dialogue.
If we fail our kids, we let it happen, individually and collectively. There is no muddling of issues here: We are to blame.