Another dot in the blogosphere?

Useless or use less?

Posted on: June 13, 2015

Today I reflect on three seemingly disparate topics. However, all have a theme of not compromising on standards. They are standards of English, decency, and learning.

I spotted this sign at a Fairprice grocery store. It urged patrons to think of the environment.

You cannot use less plastic bags, but you can use less plastic the way you can use less water. The water and plastic are uncountable. Plastic bags are countable so you should use fewer of them.

Actually you should try not to use any plastic bags by carrying your own recyclable bags. If you do that, the sign reads another way: Do you part for the environment. Useless plastic bags!

If standards of basic rules of English have not slipped, we would see fewer of such signs (countable property) and I would be less of an old fart (uncountable property).

Speaking of which, a fellow old fart (OF) responded to a Facebook troll who had terribly warped priorities when commenting on the kids who lost their lives during the Sabah earthquake.

The troll focused on the fact that the deceased could not take their Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) later this year. When OF called the troll to task, the latter became indignant.

OF discovered that the troll was a student in a local school, and while not all kids act this way, OF wondered in subsequent comments how the standards of human decency seemed to have slipped.

I baulk at the fact that some teachers wait for official Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) materials to be prepared and distributed instead of using everyday examples like these. They are far more timely, relevant, and impactful.

To reiterate what I mentioned yesterday about bad advice for teachers, how are adults to realize what kids are writing and thinking if they do not follow them on social media? You need to be on the ground to see what is good and bad about it.

Parents and teachers should not be reacting in a way so that there is less social media use because that is unrealistic. When someone cannot write or speak well, you do not tell them to write or speak less; you tell them to practice more (after you coach them and provide feedback).

The third use-less/useless example comes from this Wired article about the change in Twitter leadership.

The author contrasted Twitter’s previously “unruly, algorithm-free platform” with Facebook’s. This was not a negative statement about Twitter because stalwarts value the power of human curation and serendipity.

However, those new to Twitter might view the platform as useless and choose to use less and less of it until they stop altogether. They do not stay long enough to discover its value.

The slipping standard here is learning to persist. I can see why school systems like the ones in the USA are including “grit” in their missions or using the term in policy documents.

But is grit the central issue?

What if the adults do not have a complete picture and are creating policies and curricula that are as flawed as the “use less” sign?

What if they should actually be spending more time on social media not just to monitor their kids and students but also to connect with other adults so that they learn the medium and the message deeply?

One key answer to these questions is about the ability of adults to keep on learning. We should not be holding kids and students to one standard (it is your job to study what I tell you) and holding ourselves to another (I have stopped learning or I have learnt enough).

Do this and you put yourself on the slippery slope of sliding standards. When standards slip, they are not always as obvious as badly-composed signs or insensitively-written Facebook postings. The refusal to learn can be insidious and lead to a lack of positive role models for kids and students to emulate.

2 Responses to "Useless or use less?"

Nigel Gourlay: @ashley Grim. It should be “fewer” not “less”. via


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