It has been a delight to be given the opportunity this year to First and Third Year students. It is not one of my subjects but English teachers are in short supply and I must be judged competent to teach the junior years.
The greatest challenge in the past two weeks has been to try to get the First Years to engage in personal writing. It seems an alien concept.
The telephone brought the decline of written communication. To read the letters written by even ordinary people a hundred years ago brings an awareness of how literate many people were. Listening to the writings of Dickens while driving home from work brings an awreness of how extensive was the vocabulary of ordinary people.
Once universal education had become available in the late 19th Century, writing was taken seriously. To read letters sent home by emigrants brings a sense of something being lost.
How many famous people are remembered through the collection of letters they wrote to others? How many insights into history and its nuances are conveyed in the correspondence of those who were the principal actors in the events of their time?
Clergy, particularly, were known for engaging in the writing of lengthy and, often, learned, letters. It is a habit which has long since disappeared, (but with the rise of evangelicalism, so too have learned clergy.
Who us there who now writes letters? Why would one write when a telephone call costs little or nothing?
The students in my classes have replaced written words with the constant sharing of images, bringing the further decline of the skill of writing. Twenty years hence and people will probably find alien the idea that every moment of life would not be a subject of pictorial record.
Communication now is probably more about images than it is about word. Mobile phones are about much more than talking, they are about photographs and video. As long as a mobile phone network is available, pictures of everything can be sent everywhere.
Perhaps we will become so accustomed to receiving constant pictures and videos that the idea of writing anything, articulating thoughts and concepts, will become as quaintly outmoded as picking up a pen and paper to write something that will be put into an envelope and posted, only reaching its intended recipient days later.
Perhaps a future teacher won’t even attempt to teach writing to students.