Although the U.S. Department of Education reports that the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) is the highest at 78 percent than it’s been in nearly 40 years, it should not obscure the fact that many students are graduating without learning how to spell even the simplest words. The evidence is starting to show up on resumés and job applications according to some recruiters. Thanks to the ‘art’ of texting and anonymous blogging, proper spelling and syntax are falling by the wayside. Abbreviations that were usually reserved for personalized license plates like “C U L8R” (see you later), have become standards in text lingo. Improper word construction like ‘where you at’ has found its way into the mainstream, and too many children are not being corrected when they repeat what they hear, likely because their parents and a new breed of teachers don’t know any better either. There is a debate as to whether traditional grammar is even necessary anymore. Since the new generation grew up texting and on Facebook, some say content matters over structure – that is, what is being said trumps how it is being said. Content does matter, but a well-intended thought not properly written will most certainly turn readers off.
Teaching traditional grammar has not been prioritized for some time. Hopefully it will not go the way of cursive writing which has already been dropped from the school curriculum by the states of Indiana and Hawaii while more states are expected to follow.
Some may argue that even at its best, professionals and expert grammarians alike tend to disagree on proper grammar usage (e.g. beginning a sentence with the conjunction “And” is widely found in newspapers), holding that it comes down to a matter of style. Every writer has his or her own style or voice, but a writer who wants to be taken seriously, and be read on a wide scale owes it to him/herself to use universally recognized standards. Texting is alright in its place, but can you imagine receiving a company manager’s e-mail response that reads “F U on this”? I was shocked when I got it until I realized it meant “Follow up on this.”
Many website moderators filter their comment sections for language, but it’s disturbing that many do not and are allowing their sites to become a cesspool for all manner of profane, illiterate, insensitive, and abusive remarks. Because bloggers can post messages using a pseudonym, they hide behind the “cloak of anonymity,” and shamelessly spew out whatever they regurgitate without giving any thought as to how ignorant, and juvenile they are coming across. They say whatever they want because they are invisible. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right, but (sheesh!) shouldn’t this public access venue be regulated by the FCC just as radio and television?
So despite the continuing debate, it is glaringly evident that the school standard for traditional grammar expectations has been far too low. On the other hand, if schools raise the bar and students are not challenged and encouraged by society to apply what they’ve learned out in the real world they will lose it. For instance, after getting high marks in four semesters of French language studies, I forgot most of it because there was no daily need or challenge to use it. We as a society should be more concerned about “dumbing down” our language, and more resistant to the shortcut lavishes of electronics. Imagine if there was a major nuclear event that disrupted our electromagnetic field – how would we effectively communicate then? There would be no texting or blogging, no computer with Spell & Grammar check, so what would we do?
I make no claim to be a grammatical expert – I live by the creed “next to knowing is knowing where to find out.” One resource I find to be invaluable is a book titled “ Who’s Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway?” by author C. Edward Cole. It’s a very informative grammar reference book written out of the author’s concern about “the erosion of grammar.” Also, for some insightful literacy facts please go to www.learnthat.org/pages/view/literary_facts.html.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of ‘Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand’ www.larrybuford.com firstname.lastname@example.org (213) 220-8101