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The slang ban at llow Harris Academy innit

Rohan Banerjee
ali g 300x200 The slang ban at llow Harris Academy innit

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Wagwan readers? Are you blessed? Safe. Right, let’s get started. Harris Academy in Upper Norwood has banned students from using slang words in an attempt to crack down on the use of ‘urban’ language. Words such as ‘bare’, ‘aint’, ‘like’, ‘coz’, ‘woz’ and ‘innit’ will no longer be tolerated in the corridors of this traditionalist comprehensive,while ending sentences with ‘yeah’ or starting them with ‘basically’ have also been rendered taboo.

It’s stupid though innit. Aside from a flagrant disregard for freedom of speech, this erroneous initiative has failed to think things through. Consider this: a student tasked with describing an empty cupboard or unclothed person in an English exam, may have to enlist the help of a thesaurus rather than use the word “bare.” This may lead them to an unnecessarily complicated alternative such as “denuded” or “devoid” which surely goes against the concise writing style that is encouraged by mark schemes.

Banning the word “basically” is similarly bizarre given that a keystone of teaching is translating the ostensibly difficult to the basics. Although I think the worst one is the purging of “like.” Are Harris Academy trying to inculcate some form of via negativa about their halls – students must describe what they don’t dislike instead of saying what they do? Or are they just saying that they won’t admit Geordies?

Clearly I’m being facetious but no more so than the organisers of this campaign. Yer, I said it. WOT.

I digress. I understand that the concern is not necessarily with the words themselves, though no thanks to Harris Academy’s poorly thought out signposts, but rather with the context in which they are used. Using “bare” to mean ‘lots of’ is wrong – of course it is – and in the context of an essay or assignment, I would fully support its discouragement.

However, it seems incredulous to suggest that a student who speaks using slang would actually write ‘Hitler was bare lary’ during the course of their essay. Is Harris Academy so mistrusting of colloquialisms that they think students will be unable to tell the difference?

Colloquialisms exist, in fact, for the purpose of distinction. Colloquial language, especially in the philosophy of linguistics, is a natural subset which among other properties, misuses words. In the field of logical atomism, meaning is evaluated differently than with more formal propositions, innit.

I can concede that slang has a time and a place. But my issue stems from Harris Academy’s apparent supposition that it does not. I’d have got behind something along the lines of an appropriate use campaign, but the Orwellian feel imposed by a ban is a step too far. People, let alone students, should not be policed or criticised for the language they use casually outside of formal environments, lest their behaviour become unnatural.

Speaking to the Croydon Guardian, a Harris Academy spokesperson said the school wants students ‘to develop the soft skills they will need to compete for jobs and university places […] and the skills they need to express themselves confidently and appropriately for a variety of audiences.’ It’s the last part that gets me. Avoiding words such as ‘yeah’ might be quite difficult if that audience was ever in a pub.

Harris Academy’s idea is not a commitment to enunciation or even posh talk, it seems to me a pious project in an attempt to add prestige to a school. There might be a case to eradicate slang in the academics, but I dare say there’s one to support its use outside of the classroom, as a mode of expression. After all, brevity is.

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  • Howard Scott

    Evidently this writer is not familiar with the trials of being a modern English teacher. I am. I don’t think there’s anything Orwellian about this move – that’s wide of the mark (and makes me wonder if the writer had ever read George Orwell, too). This is not prescriptivism. Frankly, any attempt to raise standards should be encouraged; before responding, you should actually read some essays by today’s kids, which come complete with the very slang the school wants to ban. The kids are not being “policed” – no more than they would be if we were to ban swearing in classrooms. I suppose that’s Orwellian, too?

  • Cubone Jones

    1) You’re obviously not a very good teacher if your students do not understand the distinction.
    2) I suggest you read what the word “Orwellian” means.
    3) The writer writes fluently and entertainingly.
    4) The swearing point? Come on chap, up your game.


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