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Michelle Black quoted another poster: <<Sure, one can argue that a writer
should be certified in the use of proper grammar, but shouldn't our high
school diplomas cover that?>>
I suppose this question provides the perfect example of why I'm not a fan of
certification: our high schools generally don't teach graduates to read,
write, or think, yet award them diplomas anyway. It had gotten so bad that
when I attended the University of Toronto in the early 1980s, the university
was testing all first-year students to determine whether they needed a
remedial course in English. At the time, the failure rate on these tests was
appalling. (Warning: statistics that follow are many years old,
half-remembered, and rounded to the nearest quartile. Use with caution!) For
students with English as a first language, the failure rate on this test one
year reached ca. 50%, with an additional 25% achieving only a marginal pass.
The test was not difficult: the equivalent of the traditional high school
"what I did on my summer vacation" essay. More shocking still, U of T had
the highest admission standards in Canada at the time, so presumably these
kids were the best of the best. Richard Lederer's periodic collections of
"Anguished English" etc. convince me the situation is no better in the U.S.
While this leaves me (as writer and editor) in no fear of being out of work
any time soon, it also leaves me in great fear of assuming that
certification proves competence.
Even critical professions like medicine that require practitioners to
periodically recertify to confirm their competence provide no guarantees
that the certificates have much real-world meaning in the absence of a
reality check. For example, a W5 or 60 Minutes documentary about 10 years
ago reported the sordid tale of a cardiac surgeon who had an unacceptably
high mortality rate because, among other things, he was legally blind--yet
none of his peers ever found the courage to yank his license to practice. He
was certified, the logic went, and thus he was obviously fit to practice.
Now admittedly, this example proves nothing: no process is perfect, and the
occasional quack is bound to slip between the cracks of any system, but I
think you take my point.
--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear
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