According to a Daily Mail article, a school in Sheffield, UK, has banned the use of slang on the school premises. Apparently, this measure has been taken to ensure that the students master Queen's English and "professional culture" in preparation for post-school employment. To anybody who grew up in a British colony, this is old news. In the colonial era, it was standard policy to ban children from speaking their indigenous languages at school: students who slipped up were subjected to humiliating punishment. As a consequence, indigenous language use was stigmatized.
Not surprisingly, the move by the Sheffield school has some critics, some of whom point out that banning the use of slang will have a negative impact on students' self-confidence. Others express concern about the logistics behind the ban: "'Who is going to adjudicate? Who is going to say slang, dialect or accent? And
which one is right and which one is wrong?" These are all valid questions.
As for me, I am curious about the story behind the story. I find myself wondering why there is no concrete indication in the article that previous students from the school have had a hard time getting jobs and navigating through the professional world. From my perspective, if there is an actual problem that this new policy has been set up to fix, then why isn't the problem being explicitly identified? Why aren't the readers being presented with reams of data showing that slang has limited former students' chances at career success? Why aren't employers being consulted on this issue? Does this oversight reflect a half-baked job on the part of the journalists writing on this subject, or it more indicative that the school didn't do its homework?
I also find myself wondering why the school would come up with a schoolwide ban on the use of slang when all they really need to do is ban the use of slang in the classroom? Does it really matter what language the students speak when they get together to gossip and have a few laughs at break time or lunch time? And is it even possible, in practical terms, to put such a broad policy into action? For the record, I am not opposed to any move to ban slang within the classroom. I do think that language standards are falling in different national contexts, and that students are not getting the necessary linguistic reinforcement they need to master the official languages. So a form of intervention is necessary. However, the most effective form of intervention would entail making better use of classroom time.
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