Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Long Term Results of "Dumbing it Down"

Our country's deterioration began by being okay with misspellings.

WHO made the chili ?


  When I was a child, both my parents unceasingly called my attention to misspelled words or poor grammar in our daily lives.  It didn't matter if this was a fruit stand, or a television program, they wanted me to know that something was spelled incorrectly.  My initial response to this as a young person was generally, "Who cares ?"   Is there going to be a spelling test afterward ?  Will points be lost somehow ?   My parents explained that when a television program misspells, misuses or mispronounces words, that this causes other people to do the same, and that in the long term this erodes our language.  At nine, this just didn't seem to be much of a problem to me.
              As I aged and entered my teens my parents were concerned about the general education of those within the US.  When we shopped, no one could deduct 10% or 20% from something without going through a protracted process with their cash register, and even then, they couldn't get it right.  I didn't care.  After all, a job at the Newberry's was not rocket science.  Who cared if the sixteen year old behind the cash register couldn't do math ?   All he really needed to do was count change.
              In my twenties, I graduated from college, married, bought my own home, and began to have children.  My parents continued to lament on how people might have a degree in a particular subject, but that they weren't well educated across the board.  Many didn't know even basics of literature and science, and a lot of people in the eighties didn't know the first thing about geography or history.  Even though I was beginning to notice this, my response was pretty much that, we did, and this would stand us in good stead. If most people lacked a broad education, and we had one, then we would do, oh well.
             Of course, like most people, as I grew, I have found that my parents are much brighter people than I imagined them to be when I was, perhaps nine.  All of the things they worried about when I was a child have come to roost as big problems.  Political correctness has reached a point at which we can't communicate clearly in the workplace for fear of offending someone in some way.  General public education has deteriorated to such a point that high school graduates might, or might not be, functionally literate.   Many people can't speak clearly enough to be understood, and don't know enough vocabulary to make themselves understood, without dipping into swear words.  People with degrees might know their subject, or they might not.  A new mechanical engineer might be able to function at his first job, but he also might not.  A physician, might be adequate in family practice, but might not be able to better the child on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader ?"   I meet Phds all the time who are functionally inept in anything else besides their own field, and some, who aren't stellar in their own subject.
             My parents had a point.  The thirty to forty year stretch of time when people didn't need to have decent handwriting, or didn't need to write clearly or convincingly, has left its mark.  Many people can't write a letter, even coherently enough to complain about a product or a service.  Many people, don't know who the president of the US was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  They think we have 56 states.  They think Canada is a US state.  They think that Russia is a communist country.
              I am different from my contemporaries only in that I have very clear memories of being three, four, five and onward.  I remember when a US high school graduate was a person whose education actually permitted them to go to a company, read the orientation notebook and begin to do a job, which resulted ultimately in a career which supported a family and bought them a house.   I remember when a person in college had to study in order to remain there.  I remember when a Phd was something rare, and when there was nothing you could ask them that they wouldn't have known something about, or could have ventured an educated guess.
              My parents were right.  The erosion of our language, how it's spelled, and it's meaning, over time resulted in a laziness of communication, of functional precision, and eventually in critical thinking.    Without critical thinking, our nation was ripe for someone whose plans for it did not make sense and would not be workable.  This is how the present regime was elected.
              I am sorry that I wasn't bright enough to understand the implications of making the standards so low when I was a child.  I suppose if I had understood, I would not have been in a position to improve the situation anyway.   I did do my best as an instructor to keep the standards high, and help my students meet those standards, rather than "dumbing down the course material" whenever I could.
             We now live in a nation which may not be able to compete with all of the other world nations.  It seems to me that many of the other nations have also fallen into sloppy writing, sloppy definitions, and imprecise work.   How long will it take to repair forty years of sloppy education resulting in a largely ineffective workforce ?     Because half of our citizens can't read or think well enough to borrow a presidential candidate's books from the local library and to read them, we now have a president who issues executive orders rather than interfacing with Congress.  We have a president who thinks the Constitution is an archaic document which has outlived its usefulness. We have a president and a regime which thinks spending money will help to relieve our nation's crushing debt.   Yes, it did start with sloppy spelling, and an inability to write, and it's ending with an inability of half of the American people to apply critical thinking skills.

You first !


DFW said...

Amen Sister!

TC said...

When I was a teenager, (in the late 80s), I saw a neon sign in a local deli, which read "Homade Pies". I went in and spoke with the manager about the misspelled signage that he paid to have made and was told "it doesn't really matter to me that it is wrong because a lot of people stop in here to tell me it is spelled incorrectly and sometimes they even buy something to eat". I thought it was stupid answer then and now.
By the way, you used the word "their instead of they" in the following sentence:
People with degrees might know their subject, or their might not.

JMD said...

I have noticed this frequently. If one is writing on the internet they can use spell check...maybe they are unaware?

JaneofVirginia said...

TC, Thanks for your post, and I corrected my error. I inadvertently proved my own point ! I make a fair amount of typos actually, because I type really quickly. Most of the time I catch them, but sometimes I don't. My parents would be mortified !
The manager of the store with misspelled signage was probably correct, but there is a cost to bad spelling left that way.

JaneofVirginia said...

Maybe, but I think the massive departure from English predated the internet. I use a couple of different types of systems, some Windows based and some Linux based. Some correct spelling, and some don't. Occasionally, a program corrects a medical word from the correct spelling to another word which is in its database. Drives me crazy !

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I can use it !

Linda said...

I was working for GSU under a federal grant. As I walked the halls of the inner city school, I saw signs bought at a teacher supply store--Dy-no-mite! Educators know that peripheral learning occurs. I now wonder how many minority chldren think dynamite is spelled dy-no-mite. This sign was unfair to the students in the school.

One day when I was in my 30s, I started talking to Mama about something. She turned and stared at me. She told me I was only two when that happened and no one in the family had repeated the story of the incident I wanted to talk about. Apparently it is unusual to remember that far back. I always knew I was two, I just did not know I was not supposed to remember.

At a university I taught "Math Anxiety" and had about 10 women in about 55-60. They asked me how to figure fractions, how to figure 25% off without having to ask the clerk to figure the dress price on the cash register, and other simple things I can do in my head and for the last 50 years! Their husbands were rocket scientists, PhDs, physicians, mathematicians. None would teach their wives. I was appalled these women even got out of high school. This was ten years ago, Their early education happened in your forty-year window.

Since English is my field, I deplore sloppiness in language, spelling, and punctuation. Everyone has to learn and grow, but continued apathy by instructors galls me. I cannot tolerate the attitudes: "it doesn't matter how a person spell; communication is the goal." that's okay in the first grade, but even then, the goal is to move forward, not stay ignorant while the role models accept writing flaws. Students assume they are correct when their is no feedback or repercussions for mistakes. Grades are inflated. Their is no reward for excellence in the grading system or societal attitudes.

My parents came down hard when I spoke in a way they disapproved. I was not allowed to say: u huh, uh uh, yep, nope, etc. We had to say "yes" and "no." There was no slack cut for the situation or our age. Words mattered in our house.

Spellcheck is practically useless. It will tell me if I put three "Ls" in a word, but if I write "bare" instead of "bear, Spellcheck does not know the difference. Actually reading carefully is the way to catch all the mistakes. Students think spellcheck is their perfect slave, the reason they don't have to learn to spell or read for errors.

I am a great speller but a poor typist. Plua, my computer is slow and misses some letters while its brain tries to catch up with my fast fingers. And, I am lying down in a chair trying to deal with cataracts and low vision! So, if there is a mistake here, oh well. My typing? You want me to be fast or correct? I never proof any comment before I publish.

The eighteenth century grammarians were trying to make the English language a rigid system. They did standardize spelling. But, they language is alive, evolving and changing by the day. Most permanent erudite changes are not from the street. The grammarians wanted to freeze the language, an impossible task. We are not talking about permanently freezing the language. We are talking about stopping the total disregard for certain standards and conventions that make it possible for us to communicate effectively with others, leaving no mistake about what we are saying.

My GED students asked me all the time why they had to speak like me, write like me. My answer: The people who will hire you and fire you write and speak like me.

You hit a nerve.

JaneofVirginia said...

Linda, Exactly. You have raised many points which are very valid. I don't think anyone today wishes to freeze language, and I am fairly tolerant of typographical errors, because I certainly make them myself. Somewhere, someone has to realize that the deterioration of our culture began with a tolerance and then an embrace of what I call "promiscuous use of language".
I also noted your other point concerning remembering very early occurrences. I always have remembered very early things and related them to my family. Fortunately, they validated what I was saying and filled in the information. I have a recollection of being in a crib that is not mine, with a bunny with a smile and sharp teeth, sort of a knock off of Bugs Bunny, but not really. My father recollected that my parents made a trip from the US to England on a ship in the early sixties, and that my crib in the stateroom had a vicious looking white rabbit in it. All four of my children also have very early recollections, but then, we encouraged it, and we accepted that it was possible. Our fifth child, whom we adopted as a teen, also has some frightening recollections of being very small, which turned out to be true.

Kelly said...

I blame parents (myself included) for letting our kids stay plugged in to electronic devices for hours every day. If they unplugged, had conversations with real people that are in front of them, and maybe read a book or two they would be smarter.

It's Time to Live said...

I am a just over fifty guy working in a “place” where the workforce ranges in age from 21 to 62. It is very apparent how the work ethic and ability to work has changed over the generations. The 62 year old never sits down, seldom takes a break and is always doing something work related and productive. This ethic is contrasted by most of the younger crowd. They sit at every chance, always take many breaks and are less often found doing something work related and or productive. Quite honestly the 62 year old does the work of two or three of the younger workers. I purposely left my own work ethic out of this comparison.

JaneofVirginia said...

We homeschooled and never ever had cable tv. Of course in college, they plugged in, however they can all talk, function and have vocabularies. Still, it's a good point. It might help with the US child obesity epidemic too. (Although I think that is Michelle Obama's obsession, not really mine)

JaneofVirginia said...

Yes, even my older kids say this. A lot of young employees aren't useful.

David said...

Yep, I tend to be a spelling nazi too, though not as bad as I used to be. I just think that being able to communicate clearly in written correspondence (typed or email) is a skill no longer being given priority in the days where text messages are the norm, and it shows badly. Two things which immediately get negative attention from me - the inability to distinguish between "lose" and "loose", and using textspeak in any written or electronic correspondence other than a private text message.

JaneofVirginia said...

I feel the same way. I see "advice and advise" used incorrectly many times. I rarely see "to, two, and too" used correctly, although I would like to think that they know the difference, but they are typing quickly in dim afternoon light, as I am. I also see the "d" omitted often, in words like christened, leavened, sharpened, etc. There is a big difference between, "He sharpen the knife" and "He sharpened the knife". My very wise third grade teacher, who really was a very bright woman, would be spinning in her grave.

Linda said...

I said to my mother one fall: I remember hen you put me and Gary in the baby buggy and drove us a long way down a gravel road where we got persimmons from the side of the road. You had told me for a long time that we would go. The next fall, you made me walk and put Gary and Shirley (new baby) in the buggy. I was so upset because I had to walk so far.

That is when Mama turned in amazement. She said: You were only two, and this is the first time we have ever talked about this. How on earth could you remember that?

I proceded to tell her about the one-room house we lived in before Daddy added on. I told her exactly where the wood-burning stove stood, their bed, mine and lots of other details.(actually, he was building it as we lived in it.) That was the summer just before I turned two. Mama was shocked that I remembered those things. I remember some things Mama said never happened. I think she is protecting me from remembering the horrors of my father!

My brothers and sisters remember nothing before the age of six, when we went to school back then. I was the oldest. I read that children remember things when the first realize they are a separate entity from parents. Yes, that was me very early.

What a scary bunny that must have been!

JaneofVirginia said...

My daughter tells a story of learning to walk, and the walls at home being very sharp. She said that as she used the wall to steady herself the sharp wall texture cut her hands. This was amazing to us because we moved from that house when she was 14 months old, just after her brother was born. Because the sheetrock was slightly irregular piece to piece, I had make sharp texture on the wall using spackle, making the interior look like a Tudor country cottage. It was, however, very sharp if you were a tiny child learning to walk, and I had done the walls a couple of years before she was born without realizing that the sharp texture would remain hard and in places, sharp.