For awhile I had a quiet game that I played every time I read Newsweek. I looked for errors in spelling, grammar, usage, or anything else that absolutely did not belong in a major publication such as Newsweek. Almost every week I won the game, but eventually I tired of it and started skimming the magazine so that the mistakes in writing and complete disregard for editing would not ruin my day.
This is not the first time that the horrible misuse of the English language has bothered me, and with the United States educational system being what it is, it will not be the last.
The first year that I taught middle school English and literature I had the pleasure of being a horribly underpaid and overworked employee of an overpriced private school. Why was it a pleasure? For three periods a day I taught English. I’m not talking about reading poetry or discussing the latest tween novel. I taught grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and writing. We diagrammed sentences on the board, and those children left that class knowing why a comma is placed in one sentence and not another. I made certain that it was interesting and fun – yes, grammar can be fun – and loved that I was teaching a useful skill set.
The following year, after the school stopped paying us entirely, I began working at what has been called one of the best public middle schools in the country. I was shocked to learn that I would not be teaching grammar.
At some point our school systems decided that cursive was no longer a skill worth teaching and that spending time on teaching the rules of the English language was simply a waste of time. The idea was this: children would be exposed to fine examples of proper usage and would learn through context.
The only problem? There are very few examples of proper writing from which children can learn.
I think that the result of this way of “teaching” is clear. Newsweek is not the only example. Just last week I read Good Housekeeping and learned that a specific medical test will “home in” on disease (hone in, perhaps?). Why didn’t the editor catch this mistake? Why did it bother me so much?
I’ve come to a point in my life where I’m no longer a wide-eyed, angry girl who is out to change the world. As a former teacher I know that there are much bigger problems with the educational system than the fact that kids are not learning English. In many schools, I’m quite certain they aren’t learning anything and are not safe in the process.
But for all of you wondering why the writers in their twenties who are filling your house with sub par reading material do not know that “cannot” is all one word, here’s your answer.
Disclosure: I frequently take liberties with structure in the writing of my blog. Print it out and circle it in red ink if you must. The fact remains that if I want to put commas in only the proper places, I am able to do so. ;p