The day I got a rejection e-mail from The Express Tribune’s blogs team

Published: March 21, 2014

You are nothing but a machine programmed to write inexpressive grammatically-correct meaning-less life-less gibberish. PHOTO: REUTERS

You are nothing but a machine programmed to write inexpressive grammatically-correct meaning-less life-less gibberish. PHOTO: REUTERS "Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned." Mark Twain. PHOTO: REUTERS

I quite frankly am a literary snob. I have always considered my writing style to be objective, my arguments well-reasoned and my expression refined. That is, until a comment I got from one of The Express Tribune blogs teams’ rejection e-mails entirely took me off-guard. It said, and I quote,

 “It reads like an essay and does not have enough personal touch.”

All my snobbishness went down the drain after reading this. Something like an ego-deflation process seemed under-way because, try as I might, I could not argue with the accuracy of this brief direct, slightly cruel, analysis.

At first, I was incredulous.

How could something that “reads like an essay” and does not have “enough personal touch” be bad?

Wasn’t that the way I was taught to write? …and then I realised the problem.

This wasn’t the correct or the refined way to write, this was the way I was taught to write. For the first time it dawned on me. What if all those fancy examination systems I went through had actually ruined my expression instead of refining it?

The local Matriculation system aside, people seem to attach a lot of importance to things like the O’ Levels and the SATs. It is generally assumed that these examinations teach people how to think for themselves and be creative.

You know what I think?

I think they enslave us!

Most of the products of these systems (including yours truly) aren’t humans, no, they’re machines, and incredibly dumb machines at that. The entire education system is one big factory that takes in humans, processes them and throws out machines, smart enough to do monotonous day-jobs, way too stupid to think for themselves!

I was pretty proud of the A I got in my English Language O’ Level (I didn’t take English in my A Levels), and the 10/12 I got in my SAT. In retrospect, here’s how I got these apparently ‘awesome’ grades. I was subjected to years of mind-less dog-training in which I was taught how to dumb myself down, stop my mind from carrying out the dangerous process of independent thinking and was force-fed a time-tested writing style a.k.a. the correct way and authentic way of writing English.

Text-books encouraged me to replace the pronoun “I” with the more objective ‘one’.  So instead of ‘I like rainbows’ I was taught to change it to ‘One finds rainbows delightful’. Phrases like “I think” and “My friends and I think” were replaced by objective nonsense like “It is widely believed” and “It is universally accepted”. Sure, all these fancy self-imposed constraints taught me how write like a professional, but they didn’t let me write like… me!

This flaw isn’t limited to English writing, either. It pokes its ugly head in almost every subject offered in Pakistani high-schools. I remember once being asked a seemingly open-ended question in a Pakistan Studies exam:

“What is your opinion on the Two-Nation Theory?”, so I gave my opinion.

Need-less to say, I failed. It was only later that I realised that despite the statement of the question, my teacher wasn’t really asking for my opinion. Oh no, what he really wanted was a rote-learned answer that mindlessly conveyed the opinion of the author of my text-book.

The problem with this is that it creates an aura of mediocrity in society. Sure, we have good surgeons, good anaesthetists, good technicians… but how many innovators have we produced? How many inventors, entrepreneurs, Nobel laureates? Almost none!

Our education system removes an individual’s capacity to think out of the box. In doing so, it makes sure our country never takes advantage of its true potential.

Compare this to the Japanese education system. In Japan, after freshman year at high-school students no longer follow a preset curriculum. Instead their abilities are evaluated and their curriculum is individualised, assigning them courses they are good at. According to TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), the Japanese education system is one of the best in the world (yes, even better than the British and the American systems). It has produced 19 Nobel Laureates and has the fourth highest research output in the world.

I remember Mark Twain, one of the few humans in history who survived the education system without getting dehumanised, once said,

“Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.”

And in another instance,

“Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

And that is exactly my point. The education system, no matter how anglicised, no matter how elite, tends to convert one into a machine. Don’t let it do that to you. You are a human, you (and your writing) might have flaws, it might not be well-reasoned or objective, but that is exactly what makes it your writing. If you abandon it completely, you are nothing but a machine programmed to write inexpressive grammatically-correct meaning-less life-less gibberish.

Muhammad Ahmad Tirmazi

Muhammad Ahmad Tirmazi

Currently preparing for his A Levels. He is fond of Mathematics, Blogging, Computer Programming and Writing. Liberal, leftist and a big fan of Mark Twain and Jules Verne. He tweets @Inter_Hacker

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sickofit

    Awwwww……another young rebel! Trash the system and everything will make sense! yeah right.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    You shouldn’t be taking writing advise from your Pakistani O-level teachers, nor should you accept it wholeheartedly from The Express Tribune Blogs team (with all due respect). The ET blogs team are talented, but are still young people just like yourself.

    From what I understand, Pakistani English teachers aren’t very good. That being said, you can add a lot of ‘personal touch’ to your writing without sacrificing the ‘the refined way to write’.

    The wonderful thing about writing is that there are no restrictions, so just find your style, as long as it is coherent and grammatically correct.

    You make a good point about machines coming out of the Pak education system. A lot of people will agree. I used to compare myself with people who graduated from Pakistan and would find it remarkable how confined they were in their thinking. Even at university level the students here have no room for creativity, and no room to question their teachers.

    It isn’t their fault. The education system here is poor. The teachers and professors are high on their own b.s. and run colleges with such rigidness that it kills the spirit of their students. And if you look at certain colleges, the professors don’t even understand their own subject matter.Recommend

  • Parvez

    How good was that………thoroughly enjoyed the read and this coming from an A level student says much about the student.
    In my view there is nothing to replace a good formal education……….but your true learning experience starts thereafter and never ends.Recommend

  • Shail Arora

    You sir, have my respect! (err… did I form it correctly? ;))Recommend

  • Eissa

    Does it even occur to you that maybe there’s “another young rebel” because this country’s youth is beginning to think for itself? So watch your back, we’re coming for you. It’s easy to be a keyboard warrior, isn’t it?Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Well written. I get such e-mails often. None of my Blogs have ever been posted. “I wonder why”. Am I too brazen . Am I too Talibanized, Do I always speak out against what I feel is wrong. Is it difficult for the ET to swallow the Truth.Recommend

  • Nadia Haider

    I am very much impressed by the way you have expressed yourself in this blog Mr Timrazi – forget about ET’s blog team and I will try have my son read this blog if that can help him avoid becoming a machine and be what he is…Recommend

  • Eissa

    You’ll find that avoiding first-person narratives is the norm in academic writing. You just have to adjust your writing to the context. It’s how you wouldn’t wear a bright color to a funeral. It’s just not appropriate. That said, our education system suppresses critical thinking, most traditional education systems do the same. I’m glad that you’ve had the realization and it will only get better from here on.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Well I also never able to understand most of the pakistani online newspaper comment section policy which according to me is highly restrictive and prevents healthy, non – bias and factual discussionRecommend

  • Sickofit

    Ah, the magnificent delusions of our youth…..get old and you’ll get tired, sone!Recommend

  • Amar

    Just read the beginning of your article and couldn’t continue afterwards as the words such as A LEVELS And SAT’s appeared frequently and i am sort of sick of these things. However the my main interest in reading this was that one of my blog is being awaited for posting. And i am patiently waiting that will get a nod, otherwise i may sit down to write another blog like your’s…..i Hope this doesn’t happens.Recommend

  • Raiha

    Maybe we should start a fan-club of people who received rejection emails from ET Blogs? Because there seem to be many here… :DRecommend

  • water bottle

    Can somebody tell me, what are A level and O level?Recommend

  • Pointraiser

    First of all an awesome article, same goes here even my articles are not published by ET, I don’t know what is the matter either my opinions pass above their heads or are not worth-it at all. About the opinions they ask in educational exams. Well, that very much depends on the teacher or the examiner who gets to check the paper. Some times they do welcome new opinions other times they just label them as stereotyped.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    You have to send them chocolates and cake, unfortunately.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    looking at many of the silly articles published on ET (sometimes), one wonders why are ours rejected ?…. :PRecommend

  • Anwaar

    looking at many of the silly articles published on ET (sometimes), one wonders why are ours rejected ?…. :PRecommend

  • Kamran Baloch

    Bravo! I Should Quote Here ” “The more reasons you have for achieving your goal, the more determined you will become.” – Brian TracyRecommend

  • Aamir

    It is simple sir. Just change your beardwala profile picture and replace it with a swanky clean shaven one. All your blogs would get published. Unfortunately these days liberal looks are more appreciated than liberal thoughts. Hope this goes through :PRecommend

  • Malaika Harris

    Nice article. Education in Pakistan is indeed a system of imposed ignorance. Growing up, I learned pretty much everything I know from reading that I had done on my own.Recommend

  • x

    It’s the schooling system followed here in our private schools. the ‘elite’ british system which has been largely discarded by the british themselves. It is the equivalent of high school and ‘matric system’ (add the madressah system and we have four parallel educational systems running here to segregate people according to their backgrounds). O’Levels is from grade 9 to grade 11 and has a set format with a few compulsory (english, urdu, maths, computers, pakistan studies (history and geography) and islamiat) and some optional (among bio, chemistry, physics, economics, business, literature, further maths, etc etc). A’Levels is for two years following O’Levels and you can take any subjects (with a minimum of three subjects being necessary). Students are taught in school and at the end of the O’Level three yer period and A’Level two year period have to take exams administered by the British Council. Hope that helps :)Recommend

  • Arooj Ahmed

    Writing something outside an exam is different from writing answers in exams. We are appreciated if we present author-of-the-text’s views in an exam but here we are putting forward our personal views, our personal experiences. You’ll claim more appreciation if you own your ideas by saying ‘In my view’, ‘what I believe in is that’ etc.

    And saying that machines are coming out of our education systems doesn’t always stand true. While it may be true for the major part of our education system, there are teachers who really appreciate creative writing, who hold a high esteem of yours if you put in something from outside your text books.

    Overall, it was a good read. :)Recommend

  • Arooj Ahmed

    Haha great idea! :DRecommend

  • Based on some of what I have read, I am just shocked that ET blogs actually reject people!Recommend

  • Robert Berube

    The blog posts on ET seem to be from the lowest common denominator. Such rubbish drivel.Recommend

  • water bottle

    Thank you. Informative.

    So, after A level, one does his graduation in scince, medicine, engineering, commerce etc. Correct?

    That means, Pakistanis study an year more than Indians by the time one graduates.Recommend

  • Abdul Rafay

    It’s a common practice with schools here. However, not mandatory. I completed my O+A levels+1 year of US high schooling as an exchange participant in the same time frame that it takes for an ‘Indian’ to graduate.Recommend

  • Syeda Ali

    I’m so proud of u ……i agreeRecommend

  • Khan

    Hmm..doesn’t seem like it’ll happen from your comment.Recommend

  • Unknown

    Problem starts when you enforce that write with correct grammar. The thinking move from opinion writing into taking care of grammar.

    Thousands and thousands people who learned to write with good grammar never become able to produce quality literature.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Thanks for the advice.Recommend

  • -SHAGY-

    this really cracked me up “What is your opinion on the Two-Nation Theory?”, so I gave my opinion.

    Need-less to say, I failed. It was only later that I realised that despite the statement of the question, my teacher wasn’t really asking for my opinion.

    You are right our education system leaves no room for us to think on our own…and after we finish our school..our media doesn’t let us form our own opinion. I was always a student who had her own opinion and hence never got good marks following the set standards…..even now I stay away from news channels and prefer to understand and form my own opinion on every news/incident.Recommend

  • sara wk

    An article well writtenRecommend

  • Dante

    That’s too bad son. You tried your best but you failed. You have to write rubbish to publish rubbish in a dustbin, where it belongs.

    The world doesn’t begin and end at ET. Leave your computer, programming, writing, mathematics and blogging for a little bit and go out and explore the fantastic world.Recommend

  • Hala Syed

    This is incorrect. Correct grammar does not curb creative expression, it enhances it. People must understand what you are trying to say. When you say something like “when your enforce that write with” your point is lost, even if it was otherwise valid. Quality literature comes after you know how to express thoughts in complete sentences.Recommend

  • Alijiddat

    Not just blog posts almost everything.Recommend

  • Unknown

    :) hahah then Pakistanies would have been renowned for quality literature. In USA, I have seen many Pakistanies writing much better grammatically than Americans. However, still they are way behind in creative expressions and quality literature. Whole life Pakistanies spend their life in learning grammar but you will not find a single good literature by any Pakistani
    Grammar takes shape from spoken language and not the other way round. Just look at the example of American English, how it changes from silly British grammar and evolved into a better form and have become standard for modern literature.Recommend

  • Hala Syed

    I said it was the first step, not the only requirement. You need to know the rules before you can break the rules.Recommend

  • Unknown

    People with creative minds make their own rules. They first break the established norms accidently, then as a result, a new world blossoms in front of them.

    Rules and grammars are for the dumb people. If everyone would have followed the rules, human wouldn’t have came out of the stone age.

    Most of the time, people break rules only due to ignorance. If they know this is the rule they will just follow and will remain “Koain ka mendak”. Rules can make a good machine but not a creative mind.Recommend

  • Syed Bukhari


    A good balance of your experiences and your reflections. And the Two-nation theory incident cracked me up..


  • Shahryar Saqib