What a Tangled Tweet We Weave When First We Practice to Get Outraged

A “good job” according to whom? May I ask when exactly was the last time you were in an elementary school and sat through an entire school day with first graders? I ask because my mother makes this same argument frequently, yet has not been in an actual elementary school building since 1976. Her grandchildren were taught at home so she, therefore, has no experience either visiting a school or evaluating a public school education since 1976.

Hop On Pop

I ran across a «Twitter thread» that really ground my gears. So I wrote a response, but it’s too long for Twitter. It’s just much ado about nothing. But here is my response; since I haven’t written much in a long time here, this will give me some new content.

I am reading this bandwagon fallacy-laden thread through the lenses of being an English major, a former newspaper reporter/editor, a school public information director, a published author, and an elementary teacher with a master’s degree with 32 years of experience. Also, I get really tired of these old hasty generalizations, equivocation, and causal fallacies on social media. Also, we’re very much fellow-travelers in the political sense, so, especially if you’re humor-impaired, take the following as if it were a grain of salt on the tip of my tongue firmly in my cheek. I love everyone.

“U.S. schools are not doing a good job in that regard. And it’s been going on for a long time. I shouldn’t be hearing so many basic grammatical errors from politicians, teachers, newscasters, authors, and pundits or see so many in published materials.”

A “good job” according to whom? May I ask when exactly was the last time you were in an elementary school and sat through an entire school day with first graders? I ask because my mother makes this same argument frequently, yet has not been in an actual elementary school building since 1976. Her grandchildren were taught at home so she, therefore, has no experience either visiting a school or evaluating a public school education since 1976. This makes it difficult to accept this line of argument from either of you. I do indeed see many errors in oral and written discourse and when it occurs, it is irritating. However, I tend to hold the individual responsible for the errors rather than their elementary school teacher in 1989. Any errors I have made in these replies are my own and have multiple sources, including exhaustion from teaching during this epidemic, the speed of my written response, distraction, etc. They are not the fault of Clovis NM Public Schools, Lockwood Elementary School, and/or Mary Beth Wright, my fourth-grade teacher. I was afforded the instruction and supporting materials, which have sustained me for decades. My use or disuse or those is my responsibility, not theirs.

‘Stinginess toward investing in education.”

“Towards” is the preferred form. And, strictly speaking, you don’t “invest in education.” You invest in the systems created by adults to educate students. Systems and humans are very imperfect. Teachers like me know that more investment is needed, but how much? Where should it go? Who was stingy?

“Half of the country is nuts. How did this fucking happen???”

“Nuts” is slang and not used in persuasive discourse. Do you perhaps mean “insane” or the less hyperbolic “uneducated” or “misinformed”? “Fucking” is not used in polite, civil discourse. Its use on social media is a separate debate. But we are not discussing social media discourse here. We are discussing grammar and spelling in other forums. Finally, ending an interrogative sentence with three question marks is improper punctuation. One question mark will do.

“[Some sort of logo with “100” on it] rarely do people talk about the education system being off the rails for decades. My niece is a teacher. They no longer teach grammar or spelling because of spellcheckers, and I can only imagine what is happening in math.”

A sentence properly begins with a capital letter. Avoid dying metaphors such as “off the rails” which is, as Orwell pointed out, a “worn-out metaphor[s] which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” How can an educational system be like a derailing train? We still teach Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in U.S. public schools. It’s unfortunate that your niece is a teacher, yet makes no effort to supplant the required curriculum with grammar and spelling lessons of her own. I do this every school day.

The fact that you can “only imagine what is happening in math,” is indicative that you haven’t been in a public school in decades. We are currently teaching pre-Algebraic concepts to kindergarteners; I taught fourth graders two weeks ago how to solve “x + 100 = 120”, an equation I was not taught to solve until ninth grade in the 1980s.

Our students are indeed taught grammar and spelling (one first/second grade class I had last week had a spelling test on Tuesday). Our students use notebooks and pencils and have no access to spellcheckers.

Your anecdote suggests your local school is deficient in curriculum and appears to be unable to ban the use of spellcheckers, but please don’t over-generalize all of this into an attack on the entire American education system.

“As if spelling and grammar checkers are correct 100% of the time…”

“As if” is trendy slang a few years out of date and diminishes the point you are trying to make. Your sentence should end with a period, not with an improperly spaced ellipsis. If you are using spelling and grammar checkers, perhaps your improper use of an ellipsis does indeed prove your point that you should not rely on them. I suggest either adding a punctuation checker or referring to Strunk and White or the AP Stylebook if you need a reference for proper use.

“Yeah, we know”

Persuasive discourse shuns slang words like “Yeah.” A sentence is properly ended with a period. And what are we supposed to know? If you are referring to the comment above implying students improperly rely on spell checkers, I know no such thing. During my experience in 32 years of education in five U.S. states, my colleagues and I have taught students to refrain from relying on spell checkers for grammar or Google for research. How did you come by your knowledge that you agree with teachers that spell checkers are unreliable?

“The grammar, for one thing, is amazing. Even professors say things like, “There’s two reasons.” I’ve heard Noam Chomsky make errors in basic grammar. In math, Chinese teens make us all look like morons.”

How can grammar be amazing? Oral discourse is often incorrect and filled with slang. If you have heard professors write sentences with improper subject-verb agreement, are you referring to professors in English or education departments? If so, then they should be more correct. If you are referring to professors of higher mathematics or physics, perhaps their first consideration is the content of their discipline, not proper subject-verb agreement. Perhaps these professors were instructors at Trump University, but without more information, your readers are not precisely informed. I would also be curious to read or hear Professor Chomsky’s use of “there’s two reasons.” Can you point me to those instances?

As for math, there are many levels and many sub-disciplines. What authoritative sources are you using to suggest “Chinese teens make us all look like morons”? I’m almost 57. What “Chinese teen” would make me “look like a moron” in elementary mathematics, which I teach? I will be the first to attest that a 16-year-old “Chinese teen” would make me look uneducated in calculus, a course I’ve never taken. As for “moron”, see Orwell’s comment above on worn-out metaphors. Also, “moron” formerly referred to a person of “mild mental retardation” and is now considered offensive.

“My husband’s cousin is an elementary school teacher in Park City. Every year, without fail, her Christmas card grammar is horrendous. She encloses an entire letter that makes me cringe.”

This is known as the “appeal to authority” logical fallacy. “Person (or people) P makes claim X. Therefore, X is true.” What is “Christmas card grammar”? That would be a discipline with which I am unfamiliar. In which school does your husband’s cousin teach? Perhaps that school should be alerted to her shocking offenses against the English language. Is she a first-grade teacher or a high school English teacher? It makes a difference. Perhaps you should circle her errors in red and return the card to her and suggest she avail herself of the education system’s multiple access points for remedial grammar and spelling.

“It took learning a foreign language for me to really learn grammar.”

You imply that you learned a foreign language that uses English grammar. Perhaps Professor Chomsky could enlighten me, but I am unaware of another language that uses English grammar and syntax. I am curious: Why did you not learn English grammar until you learned a foreign language? If you went to an American school for grades K-12 and did not learn English grammar, why? We do not know which language you learned, but how did learning Spanish or Japanese or Swahili, etc., teach you English grammar? This is intriguing.

“It’s unbelievable. The entire education system is a joke now. The last book I read, I found in excess of 400 errors. There were many more, but I stopped marking the ones that were the same error repeated numerous times.”

Would you mind specifically defining “joke” as it applies to “the entire education system”? Are you including charter schools, private schools, home schools, libraries, museums, educational programming on television, government departments, the state education boards, the local boards, the superintendents, custodians, maintenance, clerks? How are millions of people who dedicated their lives to educating young Americans “jokes”? I would ask you to remember that systems are made of imperfect people.

“The last book I read, I found in excess of 400 errrors.” The sentence is improperly formed and wordy. “I found over 400 errors in the last book I read” is the proper formation. I am curious: Do you often make notes of errors in books you read and enumerate them? As an elementary teacher, i would tell you that if you are not enjoying a text for any reason, you are justified in abandoning that text long before you did to find a more enjoyable one. I’m curious: “in excess of 400” means how many errors? 410? 1,526? I share Orwell’s irritation with the imprecise use of the English language. If you mean 425, write “425”, not “in excess of 420”. Also, you have two spaces between “were” and “the same”. One space between words and after periods is the currently proper usage.

“Years ago I wrote to complain about the numerous errors in the Web pages of Webster’s Dictionary. Their one-sentence response, claiming to be from the dictionary’s editorial department, had four errors. It’s like reporting chicken theft to the fox.”

“Years ago” needs a comma after it. Would you care to share the errors committed by Webster’s dictionary with us? It would add to the credibility of your discourse. Do you have any contrary information that the response was not from the editorial department? Would you care to share that response and point out the four errors? And again I refer you to Orwell’s worn-out metaphors quote above. The metaphor is actually “the fox guarding the henhouse,” so you have mangled it a bit, which at first confused me, the reader. Your discourse should be clear, concise, and free of worn-out, hackneyed language.

Why does that not surprise me at all?”

Perhaps the social media milieu makes not only slang but also acronyms acceptable, but many of your readers will not know what “LOL” means. It also has varied meanings: “Laugh out loud” or “lots of laughs” or “laughing out loud” or “lots of love”. Here is how “LOL” is noted on the Urban Dictionary. This is not an “appeal to authority” on my part, since the Urban Dictionary is not an authority and does not claim to be one. I am pointing out how “LOL” is often seen by those engaging in social media discourse:

“Depending on the chatter, its definition may vary. The list of its meanings includes, but is not limited to:
“1) ‘I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to this conversation.’
“2) ‘I’m too lazy to read what you just wrote so I’m typing something useless in hopes that you’ll think I’m still paying attention.’
“3) ‘Your statement lacks even the vaguest trace of humor but I’ll pretend I’m amused.’
“4) ‘This is a pointless acronym I’m sticking in my sentence just because it’s become so engraved into my mind that when chatting, I MUST use the meaningless sentence-filler “lol”.'”
As for “Why does that not surprise me at all?” What exactly doesn’t surprise you and why not? Again, imprecise written language causes the reader to devalue your writing.

Urban Dictionary

And let’s not even discuss the final reply:

“Sounds like Webster’s needed better websters.”

I have to go to bed so I can get up in the morning and give first graders (virtually) their new weekly spelling list to learn. I don’t have time to deal with that one or waste any more time on this.

Sigh, double sigh, triple sigh.