Spelling and the internet

The BBC reports that Great Britain’s online economy is harmed by bad spelling:

An online entrepreneur says that poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses.

Charles Duncombe says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.

Mr Duncombe says when recruiting staff he has been “shocked at the poor quality of written English”.

He says the big problem for online firms isn’t technology but finding staff who can spell.

The concerns were echoed by the CBI whose head of education and skills warned that too many employers were having to invest in remedial literacy lessons for their staff.

Mr Duncombe, who runs travel, mobile phones and clothing websites, says that poor spelling is a serious problem for the online economy.

Charles Duncombe says poor spelling is costing the economy millions

“Often these cutting-edge companies depend upon old-fashioned skills,” says Mr Duncombe.

And he says that the struggle to recruit enough staff who can spell means that this sector of the economy is not as efficient as it might be.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics published last month showed internet sales in the UK running at £527m per week.

“I know that industry bemoaning the education system is nothing new but it is becoming more and more of a problem with more companies going online.

“This is because when you sell or communicate on the internet 99% of the time it is done by the written word.”

Mr Duncombe says that it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales.

He says he measured the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected.

“If you project this across the whole of internet retail then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes,” says Mr Duncombe, director of the Just Say Please group.

Spelling is important to the credibility of a website, he says. When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential.

via BBC News – Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales.

This reminds us that information technology still communicates most of that information by language and therefore the classic skills of writing and reading well are still necessary.

Are there other cues that make you not trust an internet site?

The history of classical Christian education

I am very excited about the publication of Thomas Korcok’s  Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future.  It supplies what has long been needed:  a history of classical Christian education as practiced in the Reformation tradition.  Dr. Korcok shows that the Lutheran approach to  education has always been the classical liberal arts + catechesis.

He also shows that the various theological conflicts were also manifested in educational conflicts:  The scholastics did practice the liberal arts  but with an emphasis on logic, whereas the Renaissance & Reformation educators emphasized rhetoric, with its attention to original texts (such as the Bible).  The Renaissance humanists tended to believe that the liberal arts were sufficient to instill morality, but the Lutherans insisted also on the necessity of Christian catechesis.  The enthusiasts, considering the liberal arts too worldly, wanted only Bible-reading schools.  The pietists also considered the liberal arts too worldly and wanted schools to concentrate only on job-training.   The rationalists considered the liberal arts too old fashioned, wanting only scientific education.  But the Lutherans believed that the liberal arts approach to education–training students broadly, with lots of history, great books, and objective knowledge from mathematics through music–combined with rigorous catechesis, was the best approach in forming young people so that they can think like a Lutheran.

Pastors, parochial school teachers, and parents should read this book.   So should anyone interested in classical Christian education.  (I suspect that much of what holds true for Lutherans also applies to various Reformed educators, who also practiced this approach.)

Here is what Paul McCain of CPH says about the book:

A great new book is now available on Lutheran education which, historically, has been the key to the success of the Lutheran Church’s ability to transmit the confession of the Church to future generations. You may order it here, via the web, or call 800-325-3040. Here is a sample for you to download.

The liberal arts model has traditionally been preferred in Lutheran elementary classrooms. No other educational paradigm so well meets the requirements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. There is no reason that the liberal arts cannot be adapted to meet contemporary needs. The question is, what should be the main focus of a contemporary presentation of the arts?

Thomas Korcok demonstrates how the Wittenberg theologians settled on a liberal arts education as the preferred model for Evangelical Christian elementary schools. He then traces how that model persisted and was adapted as Lutherans moved from Europe to North America. Korcok concludes that the liberal arts model fits our contemporary setting as changes in society today make it ever more important to have an elementary education that is compatible with Evangelical Theology. The book includes:

-Historic exploration of educational models in view of theological truths
-The challenge of influences that push educators either to the Word as objective truth or away from the Word toward secular standards of truth
-A definition of an Evangelical Liberal Arts approach, its flexibility, and how it fits into classrooms today
-Extensive references to educational, historical, and theological literature

via Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future – New Book from Concordia Publishing House | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

You can order the book from the link in my first paragraph or from the CPH website, along with downloading a free sample.  The book is scheduled for release in August, but you can pre-order it.   I wrote the foreword.

Along these lines, I should put in a plug for the 11th annual Conference of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, July 12-14,  in Sheridan Wyoming, which is where I am heading this week.  I’ll be giving a couple of talks.  If you are in Sheridan, be sure to  introduce yourself!

And now, the gender-free pre-school

In Sweden, a government-run pre-school is refusing all gender categories in their dealings with children, to the point of avoiding personal pronouns:

On the surface, the school in Sodermalm – a well-to-do district of the Swedish capital – seems like any other. But listen carefully and you’ll notice a big difference.

The teachers avoid using the pronouns “him” and “her” when talking to the children.

Instead they refer to them as “friends”, by their first names, or as “hen” – a genderless pronoun borrowed from Finnish.

It is not just the language that is different here, though.

The books have been carefully selected to avoid traditional presentations of gender and parenting roles.

So, out with the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and in with, for example, a book about two giraffes who find an abandoned baby crocodile and adopt it.

Most of the usual toys and games that you would find in any nursery are there – dolls, tractors, sand pits, and so on – but they are placed deliberately side-by-side to encourage a child to play with whatever he or she chooses.

At Egalia boys are free to dress up and to play with dolls, if that is what they want to do.

For the director of the pre-school, Lotta Rajalin, it is all about giving children a wider choice, and not limiting them to social expectations based on gender.

“We want to give the whole spectrum of life, not just half – that’s why we are doing this. We want the children to get to know all the things in life, not to just see half of it,” she told BBC World Service.

via BBC News – Sweden’s ‘gender-neutral’ pre-school.

The Atlanta cheating scandal

It’s not the students who cheated in Atlanta.  It’s the teachers.  And the principals:

Prosecutors are weighing whether to file any criminal charges against 178 Atlanta teachers and principals who state investigators said had cheated on standardized tests to inflate student scores.

The cheating in 2009, found in 44 of the 56 Atlanta public schools examined, was prompted primarily by pressure to meet targets in a data-driven environment, a statement released by Governor Nathan Deal’s office said.

“A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in Atlanta Public Schools, which created a conspiracy of silence,” the state report concluded. The 2009 cheating was said to include teachers erasing incorrect answers on state standardized tests.

Deal’s office said on Wednesday that the decision of whether or not to prosecute would be up to district attorneys in the three Georgia counties where the educators live. . . .

Eighty-two teachers and principals have confessed to the cheating, according to the state report. Deal’s office said six principals refused to answer questions.

“These principals, and 32 more, either were involved with or should have known that there was test cheating in their schools,” the investigation found.

The report concluded that there was a “major failure of leadership throughout Atlanta Public Schools with regard to the ethical administration” of the 2009 standardized exams known as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Cheating occurred as early as 2001, and warnings several years ago of misconduct were ignored, the report said.

via Prosecutors to review widespread cheating in Atlanta schools | Reuters.

I know what is going to happen:  The educators will blame the standardized testing required by  the “No Child Left Behind” law.  But what they were really doing was masking their own failures to teach their young students how to read and write.

 

Marshall McLuhan’s Christianity

The late Marshall McLuhan was the pioneering scholar of media and the information environment, recognizing how technology was changing the culture and predicting what is now happening before our eyes.  He was controversial and cutting-edged with some hailing him as being a seminal thinker on the level of Darwin, Freud, and Einstein.  Did you know he was a conservative Catholic?  Jeet Heer tells about how McLuhan came to Catholicism–G. K. Chesterton was a big influence–and how the neo-Thomism of Jacques Maritain influenced his thought.  You need to read the whole piece, but here is a sample:

McLuhan’s pioneering studies of popular culture were part of a sea change in Catholic intellectualism, as the Church gave up the siege mentality of earlier decades and tried to offer a more nuanced and positive account of modern life. As well, the Church began to move away from its defence of authoritarianism to support pro-democracy political movements around the world. McLuhan underwent his own political evolution: the young man who admired Franco became the academic who engaged in a long correspondence with Pierre Trudeau. And while The Mechanical Bride condemns the comic strip Blondie for undermining the patriarchal ideal of the man as the natural head of the household, in later writings, such as Understanding Media, McLuhan deliberately eschewed traditionalist strictures, because he thought it was more important to understand the world than to condemn it. As he told an interviewer in 1967, “The mere moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation, is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a substitute for study.”

On moral matters, he remained very conservative. He was adamantly anti-abortion, for example. But part of his achievement as a mature thinker was his ability to bracket off whatever moral objections to the modern world he might have had and to concentrate on exploring new developments — to be a probe. Indeed, although he joined the Church as a refuge, his faith gave him a framework for becoming more hopeful and engaged with modernity. This paradox might be explained by the simple fact that as he deepened in his faith he acquired an irenic confidence in God’s unfolding plan for humanity. In a 1971 letter to an admirer, McLuhan observed, “One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.”

Indeed, his faith made him a more ambitious and far-reaching thinker. Belonging to a Church that gloried in cathedrals and stained glass windows made him responsive to the visual environment, and liberated him from the textual prison inhabited by most intellectuals of his era. The global reach and ancient lineage of the Church encouraged him to frame his theories as broadly as possible, to encompass the whole of human history and the fate of the planet. The Church had suffered a grievous blow in the Gutenberg era, with the rise of printed Bibles leading to the Protestant Reformation. This perhaps explains McLuhan’s interest in technology as a shaper of history. More deeply, the security he felt in the promise of redemption allowed him to look unflinchingly at trends others were too timid to notice.

via “Divine Inspiration” by Jeet Heer | The Walrus | July 2011.

I’m not sure of the exact connection between St. Thomas Aquinas as media theory, though McLuhan was not alone in working out the connections.  (Could anyone explain?)  Another major scholar in this vein was Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit.  Nor are Roman Catholics the only theologians who explore the implications of media and technology.  There was the French Reformed thinker Jacques Ellul.  And the Jewish Neil Postman.  And the American evangelical Arthur Hunt.

I would just add my own discovery:  McLuhan was also interested in classical education.  His doctoral dissertation was on the media implications of the Trivium.   I have a copy that I intend to read one of these days.

Anyway, I suggest that McLuhan may be a good role model for other Christians in their intellectual pursuits and cultural influence.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:  If you read Marshall McLuhan today, you will be amazed at how well he analyzes the new information technology and its impact on the culture and how we think.  And then you will be even more amazed that at the time the medium he was analyzing was not the internet but television!  But what he says not only holds true but predicts what happened as electronic media progressed.

And now an atheist college

So how will this be different from regular colleges?

Famed atheist Richard Dawkins will be among a group of British academic elites who will launch a new college that will rival top British universities like Oxford.

The New College of the Humanities in central London will offer degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law starting from fall 2012.

The private college is founded by 14 professors. Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller The God Delusion, will teach evolutionary biology and a required course on science literacy.

Other academics include historians Sir David Cannadine and Niall Ferguson, former Oxford professor of poetry Sir Christopher Ricks and psychologist Steven Pinker.

AC Grayling, a well-known British humanist and atheist, will serve as the college’s first master. He is the author of The Good Book: The Humanist Bible, a manifesto for secular humanists that was published in March 2011.

“Our priorities at the college will be excellent teaching quality, excellent ratios of teachers to students, and a strongly supportive and responsive learning environment,” said Grayling.

“Our students will be challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers, and will receive an education to match that aspiration.”

Creators of the new institution say it offers a “new concept” in university education.

Students at New College will take core courses in three areas: Science Literacy, Logic and Critical Thinking, and Applied Ethics. In addition to receiving an undergraduate degree in their area of study, students will be granted a Diploma of New College.

via Atheist Richard Dawkins Helps Launch New Humanities College in London, Christian News.

It appears from the website that the college will be affiliated with the University of London.  I don’t see an atheist version of a statement of faith or any reference to an ideological agenda.  But check out the faculty.  Peter Singer will teach the Applied Ethics course!   The faculty is exceedingly thin–one literature professor and they will offer an English major?  I don’t see how they could pass an American accreditation visit, let alone “rival” Oxford, which, while currently hospitable to atheists, at least has a bigger view of the humanities than is evident here.  An atheist version of the humanities would leave out just about every great writer, artist, and thinker.


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