A Lesson in Social Science

The King’s English, by H.W. Fowler, written in 1908 starts with the following advice:

“Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavor, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid. This general principle may be translated into practical rules in the domain of vocabulary as follows:

  1. Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
  2. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
  3. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
  4. Prefer the short word to the long.

These rules are given roughly in order of merit.”

 The Elements of Style by Strunk, W., Jr. and White, E.B., first published in 1918, has some sound advices packed in 25 pages.

 The Complete Plain Words, by Sir Ernest Gowers, published in 1954, has the following valuable guidelines:

  • Avoid superfluous word
  • Choose familiar words.
  • Choose precise words.

 The following pieces of text certainly have not respected the good advices of last century.

 ‘Renaissance’ means the ‘Revival’. It also means the ‘New Awakening’. The word ‘Renaissance’ refers to the significant developments that took place around 1400-1600 A.D. in the fields of European literature, art, architecture and science. The Renaissance movement denotes the creative developments in intellectual and cultural aspects. The movement comprises the complex network of multi-faceted changes that occurred during that age, transforming the Europe of the Middle Ages to that of the Modern Age …

The scholars who studied Ancient Greek literature were called ‘Humanists’. They believed that Man was the most important creature in the world; he was not a sinner …

During the Renaissance, ideas about Heaven and Hell and the Other World were rejected. Matters of the world around man were given lot of attention. Contemporary life was emphasised upon …

Ideological freedom was the primary reason for the Renaissance. The other reasons were: the attack on Constantinople, the influence of geographical explorations, invention of the printing press, spread of education, decline of feudalism etc …

The important fact to be noted here is that for 11 centuries before 1453, this city was the centre of knowledge and learning …

Martin Luther who witnessed the ostentatious lifestyle of the Pope and the clergy at Rome, rebelled against it. He wrote 95 theses of statements against the sale of indulgences and nailed them on the main door of Wittenburg Church in order to spread awareness among the people. Luther translated the Bible into German, thereby enabling even the common people to read it …

The text above is part of the first lesson in Social Science for Seventh Standard, published by Karnataka Text Book Society.

Edit Central analyses texts for style and readability. This site reports 122 complex words in 765 words and average 12 words per sentence in the first chapter of the book.

Another web based tool rewordify gives a readability (estimated average difficulty) score of 1,050 to a paragraph in the lesson.  Their score ranges from 100 (extremely easy) to 2000 (impossibly difficult). 

Analysing 765 words of the chapter, Web Vocabulary Profiler reports that

  • 74% of the words are found in the list of most common 1,000 English words.
  • 4% are found in the next 1,000 common words.
  • 6% are found in the Academic Word List.
  • The rest are off-the-list words.

The language in the text book could have been simpler and direct, making it easier to read for a class-7 student. Even the teachers would find it difficult to explain lessons written in this style. Both, the teacher and students would struggle to understand the language rather than grasp the information in the lesson. Students may cram and score, without understanding and without enjoying the learning.

A Request to teachers, parents, and citizens committed to improve the education system: Please read various text books in your reach and check if the language is suitable for the maturity and education level of the students for whom they are written. Report your findings and suggestions to the text book committee and the department of education. I am doing the same.

 

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About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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2 Responses to A Lesson in Social Science

  1. nageshramiah says:

    Dear PG, Kudos to you on three counts. Firstly, you have dug out a burning issue. Heaven knows when it happened, how and why, text books have changed for the worse. Secondly, you have put across your views succinctly. And last but not the least, you have educated many of us on the tools that exist but we didn’t know about (or is it that we didn’t care to know about!). Thanks for this very thought provoking piece. Warm regards, Nagesh

    Like

  2. Girija Hegde says:

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for taking the issue beyond staffrooms/drawing rooms. The text you have quoted of the class 7 book seems to be picked up from a Ph. D. thesis of a scholor. The quality of the textbook is definitely not judged by it’s complexity. As you have rightly pointed, the simpler, the better.

    Like

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