Permanent Revolution of the English Language

Matthew ParrisThe English language is in a dreadful mess. It always has been and always will be. That is its great splendor. At least since the arrival on our shores of a ruling class who spoke a different tongue from the common poeople, glorious civil war within the language has been a permanent condition.

Indeed “civil war” exaggerates the tidiness of the conflict. “Permanent revolution” might better describe a creative chaos in which pronunciation is at war with spelling, suffixes and prefixes at war with the roots and stems which bear them, slang at war with formal speech, grammatical logic at war with common usage, and new meanings at war with old. There are hostilities in which teachers are pitted against their students, newspaper readers against their journalists, and columnists against the editors who hire them. The air is thick with the cries of wounded sensibilities and offended rectitude, and literary landscape peppered with the bullet-holes of misplaced apostrophes.

—Matthew Parris
Introduction to The King’s English

Beyond Hillary Clinton’s College Plan

Emmanuel CollegeWe think about society all wrong and that is nowhere as clear as our thinking on the issue of education. Hillary Clinton brought out a plan yesterday to make college far more affordable, and I am largely in agreement with Corey Robin on it: it’s overall a good thing. But the problem we have right now with education is not that it is unaffordable; it is that it is a scam.

The big neoliberal idea is that everyone will get a college degree and then everyone will have a good job. Cue “Kumbaya.” But there are lots of things wrong with this. The most obvious is that if everyone has a college degree then what good is it in getting a job? All you’ve done is require young people to go to school for four more years so that they can do the modern equivalent of the jobs high school graduates did in the 1960s.

Technology Is No Excuse!

Or think about this! The justification is that technology is improving so fast that a more educated workforce is necessary. Wrong! For one thing, who are the idiots who think that going from operating a typewriter to a computer is anything close to as big a jump as going from farming to manufacturing in 1830? A major con has been perpetrated on the workers of America. All this does is make the lives of young people harder while keeping wages down.

In the 1990s, young people were told that the way to a secure, middle-class life was through university. And 20 years later, we see that no, it really wasn’t.

But I really do wonder about the elites who think that modern life is so very complicated that it now requires 16 years of school. In another century, you’re going to be in a wheelchair before you are “qualified for the jobs of today”! It’s all such nonsense.

Pretend to Solve a Problem

What really bugs me about it is that what this is all really about is doing nothing. It’s the same with education “reform,” although there, destroying teacher unions is also important. The real purpose of all this obsession with education as the solution to all our economic problems is simply to push the problem off for a couple of decades. It will take a while to see with education “reform,” but we see it today with college.

It was Bill Clinton who talked about the information economy and lifelong learning. In the 1990s, young people were told that the way to a secure, middle-class life was through university. And 20 years later, we see that no, it really wasn’t. And all these kids have tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

In that way, Hillary Clinton’s plan is good. If we are going to trick kids into getting degrees that won’t do them any economic good, the least we can do is not force them to pay for it. But it remains the case that the Big Brains of the nation are still pushing this fiction.

College Is Great! But Not for the Economy

Don’t get me wrong: I think college is great! I think everyone who wants to go to college should be able to do it — for free. But college shouldn’t be job training. College should be about opening up the mind. And there are lots of other — and for most young people, better — ways to do that. They could travel — maybe do some work in Africa — or Mississippi.

There are an infinite number of ways to expand a mind. But a small percentage of people going to university are there for that reason. And that’s not an attack on the students. They’re just doing what we told them they were supposed to do. And what good has it done? Lots more people with college degrees. Lots more debt. I just don’t see the good.

Colleges should have been outlawed the very moment someone suggested there be a major in business.