What's not to like about Caitlin Moran's tweets, Mr Gove?
I am puzzled by the reaction to the OCR exam board's plans to have an "English Language and Literature" A level that involves studying some bits of Russell Brand and Caitlin Moran's tweets. The reaction of the Department of Education (if we can believe the reports, and so far as I know they have not been denied) has been close to threatening: "Schools should be aware that if they offer this rubbish in place of a proper A-level, then pupils may not get into good universities", according to the Guardian.
Well if this were a purely English literature exam, we might well think that. But this is partly a language (and an analysis of language) exam. There is plenty of "high" language and literature in this proposed syllabus (like Pepys, William Blake and Emily Dickinson), but part of the point, I believe, is to get the students to explore changing language use in different genres. Hence that's why they are supposed to think about how different media have an impact on the language we read. Why -- and how -- does a tweet, or a blog, present itself differently from an academic essay? The idea that OCR is somehow wilfully suggesting that the Moran tweets are the equivalent of Songs of Innocence and Exoerience is so way off.
One point about studying language is that you study its many different registers. I mean, when our Classics students in Cambridge think about Latin from a linguistic point of view, they don't just study Virgil or Cicero, they look at graffiti, "popular" Latin, comedy (and all those other genres of which I suspect the spokeperson from the Department of Education would disapprove).
Besides, encouraging A level students to think analytically about some of the cultural genres -- and cultural spokespersons -- they take for granted, must surely be a good thing. Russell Brand isnt using language innocently (in any sense of the word "innocent").
I, of course, have a bit of a vested interest in this. A few years ago, as I reported at the time, there was a small collection of written extracts (plus discussion) published by CUP precisely to encourage students to look carefully at how English is used differently in different media. One of the examples it took was a blog posting from "A Don's LIfe",and it showed, very expertly, how I had (unconsciously in part, I must say) merged the demotic and the academic to create a blog "voice".
It was spot on, and careful in getting the students to NOTICE how language was working. "What's not to like?", Mr Gove?