Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your dictionaries!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nicole Palmby. You killed grammar. Prepare to die.

Okay, not really. But I needed some sort of introduction for my first post as sub-blogger of Dana’s Wonderful World of Snark. I am Nicole Palmby. And while you may not have killed grammar, it certainly is on its deathbed, and, as grammar is my mama, I plan to avenge its impending death.

I wrote this article late last week and edited it earlier this week, but I was a little reluctant to post it following Kaden‘s beautiful piece on grade inflation. I think, though, that what I have to say needs to be said, and I look forward to what you have to say about it, as well. Enjoy.

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My current day gig is shaping the literary, grammatical, and writing minds of the future leaders of your local Target team.

Okay. Maybe that’s an unfair assumption. I could be shaping the minds of future political leaders. For example, I could be grading the vocabulary assignments of the next George W. Bush! Some days I feel like I am.

Regardless of the future endeavors of the attitude-wielding, SMS-ing, bleary-eyed nodes of apathy, I am entrusted to ensure each pile of flip-flops and hoodie is able to identify the theme of classic but boring novel title here> and write a competent, even if uninteresting, five-paragraph essay.

Anyone who knows me might smile and mutter some comment about the ease of my vocation–”You mean you get to talk about books and writing all day and get paid for it? Man! Your life is rough, innit?”–but let me assure you that getting paid to talk about books and writing is not what it once was.

There was a time during which schools valued the education gifted to their students (because education really is a gift) and parents cared about what their children were doing all day. It wasn’t so long ago that students went to school because they knew they had to, and the community was proud if it was the custodian of a “good district.”

It seems that while the days of the “good school districts” still exist (I teach in one), much of what makes a school “good” has morphed into something wholly unrecognizable.

It used to be that, upon graduation, students were not only capable of writing a five-paragraph essay, but an 8- to 10-page research paper in MLA style with print sources. They understood the mechanics of the English language. They were able to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively within those mechanics.

However, I have received numerous essays this year completed–grudgingly, mind you–in what is known as text-speak. Yes, that’s right: English Honors students turned in formal essays that used the number 2 instead of “to” (and in place of “two” AND “too,” for that matter), used “ur” for “you’re” and “yr” for “your.”

While I love the ease technology gives my workload, I can’t help but shake my head at the price American children are paying for the conveniences they have. My junior students–also Honors–have difficulty placing apostrophes properly. They can’t tell me the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.”

Programs that proofread, while I admit they can be helpful, have created a dependency. Students have no accountability for their own writing skills. After all, why should they remember that it should be “all right” not “alright” when Microsoft Word in its infinite wisdom makes the correction for them as soon as they strike the next key?

When I was younger and still taking math classes, my teachers usually allowed us to use calculators to check our work–after we had done the problems ourselves. Their logic was simple: you have to know the long way before you can use the shortcut. I think the same logic should follow in writing. Yes, you do need to know to correct the spelling of “there” to “their” so that when, later, the computer does it for you, you’ll know why.

Students today put no value on their education.

Although perhaps I shouldn’t put all the blame on the students. If they could they’d text and watch Flavor of Love all day. They don’t know enough to value their education.

Besides, it isn’t only students who devalue education in the United States. Some parents have a decreasing amount of involvement in their (not they’re) children’s educations. They blindly trust that the school is taking care of things.

Unfortunately, when a school budget is dangled by a thread of standardized test scores, many schools find themselves focusing the curriculum on test-taking skills rather than academic skills. I don’t agree with the practice, but when it comes down to teaching “real” curriculum or not having to eliminate instructional positions, I can’t say I’d act any differently.

I have my opinions about standardized testing, but that’s for another carnival.

Regardless, there is still a significant decline in the emphasis put on education in our nation. And yet, college enrollment (and graduation) is higher than ever. What kind of message are we sending to our children when they barely graduate high school and are admitted to colleges and universities once thought of as prestigious?

The result is a nation of employees who rely on the automatic proofreader in their word processors, and who are unable to be accountable for what they write.

The written word is a powerful weapon. Writers wield whole worlds with their pens, and, unlike surgeons, lawyers, and real estate agents, there is no examination that must be passed in order to become certified. Anyone can become a writer with just an idea, paper, and pen.

And instead of sanctifying this power, we reduce it to busywork assignments, let students take it for granted, and eventually, take it for granted ourselves. In fact, a colleague of mine suggested encouraging students to take their notes in text-speak in order to practice summarizing and resist the urge to write every single word. What an optimistic way of ensuring students are incapable of doing what every employee must do at one time or another: write intelligently, following general writing standards.

Unfortunately, this travesty has become so widespread as to be seen in every media outlet all over the world. Just today, in fact, while watching TV, the closed captioning on the television clearly read “presidentsy” instead of “presidency.” Really? I mean, really?

As what often feels like a single, tiny voice shouting into the wind, I fear there will be no end to the apathy toward the English language. Today prepositions are generally accepted at the ends of sentences. (I’m guilty of this myself when the “proper” grammatical construction reads/sounds awkward.) What happens tomorrow? “You’re” and “your” become one interchangeable word? Come on. (Oops! Preposition!)

Are Americans really so lazy that we’ve gone from omitting the “u” in various words—color, honor, etc.—to accepting English essays that use “yr” in place of “your,” which should really be “you’re”? I’m curious what Lynne
Truss
would say about American students (and adults, for that matter) English education and writing styles.

As a writer, as a teacher, as an American, I urge citizens and political leaders to work to effect (and that’s effect, not affect) a change in the state of English education in the United States. Write to your senators, representatives, school board presidents, governors…whoever will listen! We need to act fast or No Fear Shakespeare will become Shakespeare for Americans, and the Bard’s famous line, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” (Julius Caesar III.ii.74) will quickly become “Peeps, lstn ↑!!1!”

George W. Bush: Ensuring We’re All as Dumb as He Is

A while back, I mentioned that George W. “Proud to be a C Student” Bush was trying to ensure our country’s continued stupidity, despite all his braying about leaving no child behind. I’m happy to report that Reading Is Fundamental is having some success in getting their funding back. From an email they sent:


RIF’s 5th annual Dear Colleague campaign was a success thanks to the overwhelming number of supporters who asked their members of Congress to sign the letter to appropriators to save RIF’s funding. The combination of more than 45,000 e-mails, phone calls, letters, and faxes from supporters across the nation bolstered our effort to highlight RIF’s services and accomplishments throughout this year’s campaign.

A notable achievement of this year’s campaign is the increase in the number of members of Congress who signed RIF’s funding letter. This year’s impressive increase can be attributed to all who gave their time to contact their members of Congress and voice their support for RIF. This ensured that members of Congress became educated about the important work RIF does in their districts and states and made a compelling argument for saving RIF’s funding.

The battle ain’t over. You can head on over to take action yourself.

It turns out that Bush isn’t just attempting to keep the nation stupid (while using No Child Left Behind to con us into thinking he’s a staunch supporter of early childhood education). He has other reasons for cutting RIF’s funding: unlike his billion-dollar Reading First program, it doesn’t line his cronies’ pockets with enough government cash:


As ABC’s Justin Rood explained a while back, the Department of Education is prohibited from interfering with curriculum decisions by state and local education officials. But when it came to Reading First, Bush’s political appointees would pick favored companies, then push state and local education officials to buy their products and services.

And wouldn’t you know it, the companies favored by the administration just happened to be headed by Bush donors.

My goodness me, what a surprise. I’m as shocked by that as I am by the cloudy morning here in Seattle. Who woulda thunkit?

Carpetbagger’s article is a brilliant, relentless takedown of Bush’s expensive and useless pet Reading First program. Not only is it hideously corrupt and obscenely bloated, it’s also just as useless as everything else Bush has gotten his grubby fingers on:


President Bush’s $1 billion a year initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report released on Thursday.

[snip]

“Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension,” concluded the report, which was mandated by Congress and carried out by the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. “The program did not increase the percentages of students in grades one, two or three whose reading comprehension scores were at or above grade level.”

All Reading First seems to have done is prove that Bush is the anti-Midas: everything he touches turns to shit. He’s the anti-Robin Hood, robbing from the poor to give to the rich. And kids suffer for it right along with the rest of the nation.

Reading First came under fire last year from the Justice Department and Congress. A congressional hearing determined that “people implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.”


“That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me,” said

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, which held a five-hour investigative hearing. “You don’t get to override the law,” he angrily told a panel of Reading First officials. “But the fact of the matter is that you did.” Don’t they always?

The whole Bush Administration has been a criminal enterprise, actually. We won’t go down the whole list again, but I’ll just take the opportunity to mention torture, political firings, and a war launched by lies. Now we get to add them making money off programs for kiddies. These assclowns really would steal candy from a baby.

And they’re trying to steal the future right out of our schools, not to mention the brains right out of our heads.

Charming bunch of fuckwits we’ve got leading America, eh?

A Nation of Idiots

That’s what Bush & Co. want. Stupid people can be led. They won’t ask for evidence, because they’ll believe arguments from authority. They’ll swallow any lie because they don’t know better. They’ll talk endlessly about the outrage of ordering orange juice instead of coffee, because they’re fucking clueless about the outrage of war crimes.

George “What the Fuck Do People Need to Read For” Bush has now decided that $26,000,000 is too much for a children’s literacy program.


Reading Is Fundamental was eliminated from the President’s proposed FY2009 budget. Congress can save it.

Congress can indeed save it, and so can you. Write now. Takes about 30 seconds, sends a note to your senators and Congressman, shoves the old British two-fingered salute firmly up both the Bush nostrils. What’s not to love?

A lot of us were lucky enough to have parents who could give us houses full of books. A lot of kids aren’t. Reading Is Fundamental does something about that:


Founded in 1966, RIF is the oldest and largest children’s and family nonprofit literacy organization in the United States. RIF’s highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provides 4.5 million children with 16 million new, free books and literacy resources each year.

A book of their own. Every kid should have their own book, and someone to read it to them. Now Bush wants to take even that away from kids.

John Lynch over at Stranger Fruit puts things into perspective:


Consider: an F-16C/D fighter will set you back $19 million and B-2 bomber can be yours for between $737 million and $2.2 billion. The USAF has ~200 of the former and twenty of the latter. Twenty-six million just doesn’t seem that much, now does it?


No, John. It doesn’t. Especially not when those numbers are compared to these numbers:

By age 17, only about 1 in 17 seventeen year olds can read and gain information from specialized text, for example the science section in the local newspaper. This includes:

1 in 12 White 17 year olds,
1 in 50 Latino 17 year olds, and
1 in 100 African American 17 year olds.
(Haycock, p5)

You want to know why we’re having to wage such a pitched battle against creationism? You want to know why otherwise intelligent people might get snookered by Expelled’s pernicious lies? There’s your answer. Kids who can’t fucking read turn into adults who can’t fucking read, and those adults turn into uninformed victims of the first snake-oil salesman who comes along. They have no way of understanding the information that would tell them the assclown’s full of shit.

So get on the ball, my darlings. Write your own dear representatives. Let them know that this country can afford a few more books and a few less bombs. Let them know we don’t plan on becoming a nation of idiots.

*This, the 71st post of En Tequila Es Verdad, is dedicated to 71-Hour Ahmed. If you haven’t met him yet, now is the perfect time to pick up a copy of Jingo by Terry Pratchett. I think you’ll find it has plenty to say about what’s going on in America just now, for all it’s written by a Brit and set on a flat world carried through space on the backs of four elephants standing on a turtle…