Trump’s impeachment may hang on a point of grammar

Comey_Screen_Shot_2017_06_08_at_11.05.09_AM.0James Comey speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee on 8 June 2017

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Donald Trump spoke these words to James Comey, former Director of the FBI, at a private meeting in the Oval Office. As Alex Ward of vox.com states, these are the most important words of Comey’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.

Comey felt that these were a direction to him by the President of the United States.

Primary school children in England are taught that a command includes a verb in the imperative mood. In everyday social life, however, the context of an utterance helps to determine its meaning. Questioning James Comey on 8 June, Senator James Risch sought to deflect Comey’s view that Trump had given him a direction:

Sen. James Risch

He did not direct you to let it go?

James Comey

Not in his words, no.

Sen. James Risch

He did not order you to let it go?

James Comey

Again, those words are not an order.

Pressed by Risch as to whether, as the former director of the FBI, he knew of any case where a person had been charged with a criminal offence for hoping for an outcome, Comey replied:

This is a president of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.

Comey is drawing attention to the context of Trump’s words, and in particular to the power relationship between himself and his interlocutor. He is implicitly making a grammatical analysis of language as a social semiotic – as deriving much of its meaning from the context of use.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate Intelligence Committee will accept this more adequate socio-linguistic analysis of the President’s words.

A longer version of this post appears on http://research1english.wordpress.com/
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Curriculum and assessment

The ongoing debate about student assessment now has an international dimension.  Owing in part to the agenda of the current Secretary of State for Education, comparisons are increasingly made between assessment systems in the UK and other countries.  The US system often gets a bad press in the UK because it is so dependent upon the judgement of the individual teacher.  Having worked in an California high school and as a moderator/examiner in the UK, I think the US system would have much to commend it — if a proper local system of moderation could be developed.  Local assessment, which becomes part of the teaching and learning process, is surely better than the spurious objectivity of a national “external” assessment system which (one hopes) could never be made to work in the US.  I want to quote a paragraph from the NATE  book text message:  the Future of A level English (2005), which emphasises the importance of a community of practice:

So how can curriculum, pedagogy and assessment best be integrated?  How might an effective community of practice be realised?  Clearly, the way forward is to recognise teachers’ expertise and experience in this area, and, by doing so, to acknowledge the usefulness of assessment in promoting teaching and learning as well as in measuring achievement.  Recognition of teachers’ roles in assessment also means giving credibility and status to this activity.  Logistically, if for no other reason, this is the only way forward, as the present system is unsustainable, even if it helps protect the Post Office from bankruptcy.  Validity and reliability could be achieved through the provision of regional networks (perhaps along the lines of the consortium system already run by the AQA) and through the accreditation of appropriate individuals and institutions.

Bristol Radical Film Festival

Today was the last day of the Bristol Radical Film Festival at the Cube Microplex, a wonderfully rundown small theatre converted into a centre for creativity and debate.  Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’Neill showed their film The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on Engels’ original analysis of the baleful effects of contemporary (1840s) class structure and relationships.  The film’s subtitle is: “Everything changes, everything stays the same.”  http://www.conditionoftheworkingclass.info/.   Its mixture of film and theatre (working people dramatising their own condition) was inspired by John McGrath’s 1970’s BBC Play for Today The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb3qbFcLYZc