Saturday, April 05, 2008

Death of the Sentence

Is the sentence dead? Can Johnny learn to spell? Or is it "too" spell? Sigh.

I can still write sentences. Subject. Verb. Whoops, maybe it's not as easy as I thought.

The New York Times is trying to scare us. The problem is, they don't go far enough. According to the Times, kids can't write sentences well any more, in part because they don't write them often; instead they write text messages and grammatically disgusting items in their MySpace profile and their IM conversations. Be that as it may, the problem isn't just teens. I know many adults who are God awful writers. What's worse, many of them don't realize it because they don't know what it means to read either.

Sure, they can tumble over the collections of consonants and vowels and grunt or utter seemingly coherent thoughts, and they can recite the words that appear on the screen before them. Just don't ask them what it means.

According to this article, in Mississippi only 15 percent of eighth graders can write proficiently. Fifteen percent! For the innumerate among you, that means 85 percent of 14 or 15 year old kids in Mississippi can't write. Methinks there be a literacy problem in this country. For tis not only Mississippi where there be problems.

I don't buy the Times' whitewashing of the statistics. For example:

While 33 percent of eighth graders writing with proficiency may not sound like a lot, it is the best performance by eighth graders on any subject matter tested in the national assessment program in the last three years. Smaller percentages of eighth-grade students have performed at the proficiency level in reading, math, science, civics or history tests. Only 17 percent of eighth graders managed a proficient score on the nationwide history exam in 2006, for example.

Bullshit. Thirty-three percent is terrible. No ifs ands or buts about it. If it's better than three years ago, that's good, but the performance is still terrible. How can we allow any of these kids to run for elected office thirty-forty years from now? Are we going to become a society that is more split between educated and uneducated than we already are? That's just asking for trouble.

Certainly, a couple comments on the cusp of diatribe from yours truly are not going to spur a shift in national education. Neither will a few million donated by Bill Gates, though it's a better option than my blather on this itty bitty blog. But I can't help wondering why this isn't a larger issue in the presidential campaigns.

I'm curious, could this be a national security issue? If our soldiers can't read their orders proficiently enough, might they do something improper? To be honest, I have much more faith in our forces than that. I've met a few active soldiers over the past few years, and not one of them has struck me as an aw-shucks idiot or wide-eyed fool. I don't know what it's like in the trenches, but in airports and on sidewalks, they say the right things. I'm proud of them. We all should be.

But I'm still concerned about the kids over here. Harry Potter is done. Can our kids read anything else? And how many of the kids actually read those books and how many waited for the next movie? When peace returns, will our soldiers be able to understand their union rules?

I'm off on a rant here, but my point is this: How can we be a great country if a large number of our kids can't read? I'm not stupid, but I can't find an answer to that.


Silver Blaze said...

I stumbled across your blog while looking for a witty "dude, seriously, LEARN TO SPELL" type comic to send to one of my friends. You know, I can understand using short and grammatically incorrect sentences on the internet and the lol, ur, r, 2 stuff in texting with limited characters, but some people just butcher it.
The aforementioned friend, who just turned 21, is terrible about it. I read one of his blogs, and I couldn't understand half of it; no capital letters, no punctuation, and spelling that may not even be phonetic, I can't tell.
I completely sympathize with your rant.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Blaze. I appreciate your comments. You're right, the random IM shorthands are understandable, but they work because people understand what is being said. It's called communication. Without it, humans are weak.