Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Benign neglect? Good question… #benignneglect

I don’t know anyone who taught it or sat it, but apparently when swathes of 16 year olds were asked, in the first ever National 5 English exam, for an answer to a question that demanded that they show understanding of the expression “benign neglect”, eh, whit, like, eh, they didnae know the answer.

So, we have a generation of young people who don’t know what “benign neglect” is. Or, should I say, we have a generation of young people who don’t have the confidence in their current vocabulary to hazard an educated guess at what “benign neglect” might mean. Or, should I say, we have a generation of young people unable to draw meanings from context well enough to deduce a sensible plausible meaning for “benign neglect”? Or, should I say, we have a generation of young people who are the victims, of, well, benign neglect?

What does it matter? I mean, maybe they have never and will never experience benign neglect, or witness it ever occurring in any context for the rest of time… Anyway, after the exam they can google it and find out. And then hashtag it.

Who needs to know what “benign neglect” means anyway… pfff… random… arbitrary… – oh, sorry, do you not know what ‘random’ and ‘arbitrary’ mean? Never mind. You can always google it afterwards and hashtag it.

The point is, that the National 5 ‘standard’ of ‘detailed’ language was too detailed for our pupils. Their collective vocabularies were not up to scratch. They were insufficient, poor, thin, substandard, lacking…


Could it be that this generation are victims of the benign neglect of the teaching profession?

Raised in an educational whirlwind of interdisciplinary learning and personalization and choice – could it be that their undoubtedly broad general education has been so broad and so general that it hasn’t gone terribly deep? I mean, obviously there were those tasks carefully crafted to facilitate “deep learning” – that’s not the deep learning I mean. Call me an old fuddy duddy… but I want the deep learning to go in by rote, repetition and READING.

They need to read.

They need TIME to read.

They need to TALK about what they read.

They need TIME to TALK about what they read.

It’s all about READING.

I am not (necessarily) such an old fuddy duddy that I think it has to be books, as such. Yeah, yeah, you can widen the text all you like. Give me a tourist leaflet at the age of seven and I will show you the man…

It’s the tourist leaflets at the age of 16 that worry me.

So what if the kids aren’t interested. Widen their minds. There is so much utter tosh out there for people to read. Utter tosh. Why not pick some stuff that… isn’t utter tosh?

Ah, yes, but you need to keep it accessible or they won’t be interested.

To keep everything accessible and interesting may allow for a jolly old time, but will the children learn anything? Have their minds stretched? Learn NEW concepts beyond the ones they already know?

The young people should be challenged in their reading to the point of failure with every text. And they should be reading far more than they are. Far more.

I’m feeling all dystopian now. In H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” all the books in the future are disintegrating and all the knowledge is lost:

“The brown and charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this somber wilderness of rotting paper testified.”

We are living through this very revolution, but luckily the Kindle and other e-readers are preventing catastrophe, for now. But what are our equivalents of the “warped boards” and “cracked metallic clasps” that tell our “tale well enough”?

When everyone is thoroughly glaikit, wandering the land with their certificate of attendance and their feeling of confidence so carefully fostered by the education system… will someone somewhere suddenly realise the meaning of benign neglect?


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2 thoughts on “Benign neglect? Good question… #benignneglect

  1. I agree with you completely! They did pick a horrendous phrase “benign neglect” can any neglect ever really be benign? It invites quite a few assumptions about the power or lack of the word neglect. Poor kids.

  2. Are you suggesting that they might need to read more widely that “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and a thousand Jacqueline Wilson books? Surely not…

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