Friday, March 6, 2015

Speaking and listening

I learned in the news recently that speaking and listening have been part of the English and English Language GCSEs, but that those aspects have been removed from the GCSEs because of the subjective nature of the assessments.
For Christmas I got I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend it. Now Malala is clearly a remarkable young woman. As well as reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, sent to her by Gordon Brown when she was in hospital, she had read A Brief History of Time some years before. She's bright; there's no doubt about that. But all that she has been able to achieve has been based on a combination of being able to read, write and speak. Speaking, reading compositions out loud, and debate were core subjects at school, a school founded by her almost equally remarkable father. It was part of the regular curriculum that students would write about experiences and read out their compositions. Debating was also a regular part of school life. 

This seems to me to be a fundamental skill that we should be working much harder to develop, certainly in the UK, where being articulate is not necessarily something we put a clear value on. Of course, those who can speak well and clearly gain the rewards, but it seems to me that we do little to encourage that in our children. Leaving aside the whole debate on multiculturalism, a move over recent decades to encourage regional accents which have sometimes been suppressed and despised has led to the acceptance of speech that may be close to unintelligible for those who do not belong to the group who speak that way. We don't need to return to a system where everybody speaks with RP (Received Pronunciation), but whatever pronunciation people use must be widely intelligible if they want not only to be understood but for their words to carry weight. 

The Jewish prophets were people who were charged with communication. They had to convey the heart of God to their own people, and often to foreign peoples as well. Some, like Elijah, spoke briefly and to the critical point. Others, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, spoke at greater length, developing their message to suit their point. Jeremiah and Ezekiel are also examples of prophets who used vivid pictures and metaphor to convey their urgent messages. They worked with God to communicate.

There are modern prophets too, such as A W Tozer, Norman Grubb, C S Lewis, and George Verwer, who have arrested Christians with words that go to the heart of the matter. We need those who have a clear and cogent message, and those who can communicate it well. It is disappointing to discover books that have an important message but are badly written or cannot hold my attention. We work to try and produce books that combine good writing with a vital message, and that further the kingdom of God.

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