In The English Journal of November 1927, George Norvell reported that the teachers of Beaumont Senior High School were so tired of their students’ nonchalant disregard for rules of correct English which they had learned “dozens and perhaps hundreds of times”, that they proposed the Better English Campaign.
A poster contest and an essay contest were organized, as well as a best stunt contest. Lively competition was provoked by especially the latter. The Juniors first took their chance, and they tagged the town with little pink cards that read:
The Seniors, on the other hand, tried to win the best stunt contest by publishing a school newspaper that was headed with the words: SENIORS PLAN TO SLAY SLANG. In addition, they provided every student and teacher in the school with a card. Whenever a pupil detected a language error made by somebody else, that pupil was allowed to collect the other person’s card. According to Norvell, students were particularly diligent in monitoring the speech of teachers. Each time teachers were corrected and had to surrender their cards, students loudly celebrated their triumph.
The best stunt, eventually, was a play written and performed by the Seniors, called: “A Tragedy of Errors”. In the play, a student called Jack got into trouble as a result of his extraordinarily bad speech. Of course, as soon as Jack learned to pay attention to his English, his problems were also solved in some way or other.
At the end of the Better English Campaign, the points earned via the contests were added up. The Juniors had been most ambitious and thus they were awarded the silver cup. Up until the next Better English Campaign a year later, the cup reflected these students’ honor.
Just like the topic of my previous post The Alphabet of Errors, Beaumont’s Better English Campaign similarly shows that some teachers of English actively encouraged their students’ use of proper English in the 1920s.
I wonder what other kinds of projects and plans that aimed at correcting students’ English were carried out in the first half of 1900? Would teachers of English today also like the idea of letting their students participate in a yearly Better English Campaign?
Norvell, George W. (Nov. 1927) “Beaumont’s Better English Campaign.” The English Journal, 16.9: 682-687.