Grammar Police

>> Thursday, November 1, 2007

I came across this article last week, "American kids, dumber than dirt." I particularly liked two related comments I came across in the comment section.

brandon208402 wrote:
As a TV watching, video game playing 23 year old, I can certainly see why you would think there is some dumb kids coming down the pipe. We gave you Lohan, Hilton, and Ritchie. I went to a rather well funded suberban california k-12 school pre-bush and a fairly well regarded liberal arts college, and even I find myself thinking about that dreamy Zac Efron when I should be listening to a lecture. The teacher you cite works in Oakland, certainly not one of the better school systems in the country. Add to that No Child Left Behind, dramatically increased financial stratification, and more and more distractions it would make sense he sees his kids as dumb F#*%$. This is but one school out of many, though, and a relatively recent downturn. I really don't think you or your teacher friend should be quite so alarmist, especially when it stigmatizes and entire generation who were not in control. Need I remind you, who ever said the generations before us were so damn clever anyway?

crescens wrote:
brandon: Notice your first sentence: "As a TV watching, video game playing 23 year old, I can certainly see why you would think there is some dumb kids coming down the pipe." "IS" is singular verb, "KIDS" is plural. It should be "As a TV watching, video game playing 23 year old, I can certainly see why you would think there ARE some dumb kids coming down the pipe." If at 23 you can't write a grammatical sentence, you are a case in point illustrating what Mark has just said! Also, "TV-watching" and "game-playing" probably should be hyphenated.
I'm so glad that someone called him on his punctuation or lack thereof. I see things like this all the time and usually ignore it unless I'm at work. I do a lot of tape transcription, so I'm always trying to make sure I can put spoken words into grammatically-correct sentences. Sounds easy but most underestimate how spoken English differs from written English. I bear a burden like this because the department I work in is often responsible for proofreading.

Take this statement/phrase for example:
Acknowledgement of, fun with, fear
Anyone with a good understanding of grammar can see what is wrong with that statement. Two prepositional phrases are broken up with commas in an attempt to use the two words in between as an appositive/apposition. Guess what? It is an incorrect way of using commas!

I couldn't understand this statement the first, second or third times I read it. Neither could my coworkers. I emailed back the writer for clarification of what he was trying to say; he responded with this explanation:
I think they make sense.

It's like saying: Acknowledgement of, and/or fun with, fear.
…just without the and/or
At this point I thought I should explain what made his statement so unclear--his improper use of a comma. I don't like the thought of being the grammar police at work, but since this would be seen by a few thousand people I thought I should give it my best shot. This was his response to me:
Incorrect. First of all, these are not sentences. They're quipish bullet points, and quipish bullet points are done for effect, not for school marm diagrams. Second, the two commas make it so you could read it without what's in between them, i.e.: Acknowledgement of fear.

I like it how I had it.
So the writer of "American kids, dumber than dirt" happened to write this about our younger generation's understanding of English:
But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens' decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words "agriculture," or even "democracy." Not a single student could do it.

It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he's taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph. Recently, after giving an assignment that required drawing lines, he realized that not a single student actually knew how to use a ruler.

It is, in short, nothing less than a tidal wave of dumb, with once-passionate, increasingly exasperated teachers like my friend nearly powerless to stop it.
Shit! The education apocalypse isn't coming, it's already here! The writer, who doesn't know how to use a comma, isn't a kid in high school. It's communications manager of a Fortune 500 company!

One more thing, he doesn't know what a possessive is either.
What do you think will affect forest products industry profit more in the future?

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