Express Yourself

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February 28, 2010

Grammar Twits? Or social medias are being blamed for nothing?

A recent article in the Metro newspaper (Feb 2 2010) reported complaints from university professors regarding today’s grammar. Apparently, technology like Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging are causing this generation of post-secondary students to fail spectacularly when it comes to academic writing. Let’s look at some common text/FB/Twitter/etc phrases for a moment:

K thx c u l8r xoxo ilu (Ok thanks, see you later. Hugs & kisses, I love you)

I dunno y u want 2 no (I don’t know. Why do you want to know?)

Ok – maybe they have something of a valid argument. However, I find it hard to believe that even the dumbest of students would write that way, typically, in a university research paper, exam, or essay. I would assume that most students can tell the difference between academic assignments and a blinking screen.

No folks, I don’t buy it. I don’t think this is where the egregious errors are coming from. The truth is, these problems started before all this technology happened; we can’t blame FB for grammar failings from 10+ years ago, sorry. To look at the spelling and grammar errors being committed by native speakers of English without learning disabilities, we need to look elsewhere: our schools

Curriculum. Take a look at the curricula in public elementary and public high schools. (I never attended private or Catholic so I can’t speak to what happens there!) How much time is designated for reading, writing and spelling? Not very much. Look especially at high school: students can barely write two-page essays, but core English consists of literature study, as opposed to actual grammar. Literature study is important, absolutely; but reading Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, delicious as it is, isn’t going to help those students write their essays in university. Students are graduating from public school and high school without the ability to write, period. This is unacceptable. Ask a random native speaker to break apart the parts of a sentence: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, subject, object, pronoun, etc. It will be hard for them. Look at they way people write; they mix up two, to and too; they mix up their, there and they’re. Your and you’re. These are BASICS. These are things that should be taught in the primary level. Academic writing is not like blogging, texting or casual emailing. Our systems are failing our students by not providing them with the basics; it is assumed they will pick up writing skills from reading. Reading provides a great example of sentence structure and writing flow, but it isn’t enough. Students need to be actively engaged in creating sentences and paragraphs; pretending to read them in class is not enough.

Expectations. If professors in universities are having all these problems, then we need to ask ourselves, “Why are the students in university?” If they can’t formulate sentences properly, how did they graduate? I seem to recall writing many essays in high school; someone’s reading them and marking them, so someone must be aware of the dire straights of these students. Why should they graduate from high school if they can’t put sentences together? The “no child left behind” policy is a sham; it does not help the students achieve anything other than putting one over on the system, and then getting in over their heads at college or university. Students should not be able to pass their core English courses if they are unable to do the work. Period.

Bottom line: While it is possible that the new technology and social networking isn’t helping the problem, it’s not fair to say they’re causing it, either. Facebook and Twitter, text messaging and IM may be helping students reinforce their mistakes, but the mistakes they’re making in the first place are a result of lack of solid, basic education. Post-secondary students should be able to write well; in may cases, their education depends on it. However, they are not well prepared in elementary school and high school, and no one seems to really care. We need to get back to the basics, and arm our children with the basic skills they need to express themselves. We need to engage the students in the process, and set realistic expectations: if you can’t do the work, you can’t pass the course. Universities would do well, as an extra thought, to construct a mandatory English grammar course for all first-year students, regardless of program of study. Don’t send borderline illiterate students out into the world!

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