Language Bullies Eating Cheesecake, Circa 2013

Friday 20 September 2013

How is work? Are you coping? Teaching is, after all, a demanding profession. The rewards are not always pecuniary, the ‘long’ holidays hardly compensate for the punishing demands of term time, and then there is that constant demand to change and adapt.

That teaching changes should not surprise us. Besides, good teachers always strive to improve their practice. In some part, it’s why they go to work.

A few complain that “we’ve seen it all before”. Well, maybe. But the seen it all before brigade have only seen it all before from the perspective of one career in one lifetime. In historical perspective, teaching has changed enormously over time. The website, Open Culture reminded me of this in ‘Rules for Teachers 1872 and 1915’:

Rules for Teachers – 1872

1. Teachers will fill the lamps and clean the chimney each day.

2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s sessions.

3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual tastes of the pupils.

4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.

6. Women teachers who marry or engage in improper conduct will be dismissed.

7. Every teacher should lay aside from each day’s pay a goodly sum of his earnings. He should use his savings during his retirement years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, visits pool halls or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop, will give good reasons for people to suspect his worth, intentions, and honesty.

9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay.

Rules for Teachers – 1915

1. You will not marry during the term of your contract.

2. You are not to keep company with men.

3. You must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless attending a school function.

4. You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.

5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.

6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except your father or brother.

7. You may not smoke cigarettes.

8. You may not dress in bright colors.

9. You may under no circumstances dye your hair.

10. You must wear at least two petticoats.

11. Your dresses may not be any shorter than two inches above the ankles.

12. To keep the classroom neat and clean you must sweep the floor at least once a day, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water, clean the blackboards at least once a day, and start the fire at 7 AM to have the school warm by 8 AM.

The rules, from today’s perspective, have a quaint, old-world peculiarity, don’t they? Teachers of English A: Language and Literature could give these rules to their students and ask them to devise rules for the present day. This would challenge students to consider their own ethnocentrism and preconceptions. Understanding that texts have constructed and sometimes contested meanings requires students to engage in a spot of navel gazing; they need to ‘get’ that their assumptions come from somewhere.

Since no one normally reads this far into my blog entries, I feel it is safe to admit that my own guilty term time pleasure involves walking to Starbucks at the nearby National University of Singapore and doing some leisurely marking over a coffee and New York cheesecake.

But, beware those apparently serene coffee shop dwellers who scribble on scattered paper. An article in this week’s Australian Daily Life website suggests that those who would correct the language of others are nothing more than language bullies. So there.


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