Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Irregardless, and More Importantly: Do You Know What Is Wrong Here?

So today I am listening to a talk radio show.  They are discussing whether college is important or not.  Many are arguing that it is not because you can’t get a job with a bachelor’s degree anyway.  Perhaps true.  I will keep my opinions about college and who should go and who should not, to myself.  But to the guy who called in to say college was unnecessary because he dropped out and still started up his own marketing firm irregardless of not having a degree, I would like to say to you that perhaps had you not dropped out, you might know that irregardless is not a word.

People who do not know the basics of our English language are not getting on my ark.

We spend so much more money on education now than we did when I was growing up.  I have to wonder where it all goes.  Ignoring the fact that I get a list of twenty-some-odd things I need to buy for my first grader to take to school with him that used to be provided to the students, things like crayons, glue, scissors, pencils, etc. Forgetting the fact that many classes such as art, gym and music that were part of the curriculum 30 years ago are no longer available to all the students.  Ignoring the fact that uniforms are no longer provided to our athletes and busing is only available to an elite few, what I have noticed most is that the quality of education has gone right down the toilet.
Why can’t the teenager at CVS make change?  Was it third grade where we learned how to do that?  We had worksheets and even play money and we’d have to come up with all the ways to make 37 cents.  You remember that right? 
Or what the heck is creative spelling?  No I’m not asking, I’ve had it explained to me by my son’s teacher when I explained to her that no I don’t want “skool” to be an acceptable spelling, at least not from my son.  I want him to be held to standards. I want him to know right from wrong and I don’t want him to think that almost right is good enough.  It isn’t.  Have you ever tried to unlearn something you were told was right?  I have and it is darn near impossible.  As a graduate of a prestigious MFA program, I still have to double-check my comma usage every time because once upon a time someone explained commas to a grade school class by telling us you put one where you take a breath.  Really?  I wish I could go back to that teacher and tell her if you don’t know how to do something, look it up, almost isn’t good enough!
            But for some reason, the one that gets me most is incorrect grammar usage.  I know the English language is difficult and complicated.  I know it is one of the more difficult languages to learn, but for now anyway, most of us here in America are learning it as a native language, by example and through immersion and it should not be deteriorating at such a rapid rate.  And it is doing so because so few people have been taught to speak and write correctly and even fewer have been held to that standard in school or in life.  Language is generally learned through imitation.  If children hear adults speaking correctly, they will learn to speak correctly.  But conversely, if children hear adults talking wrong they’re gonna talk wrong too.  (Hopefully you caught the intentional errors and sarcasm there).
There was a day when you could listen to the news and hear a well-educated knowledgeable voice telling you about the day’s events.  Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Ted Koppel would never have said more importantly.  Why?  Because something cannot be more importantly.  It can be more important than something else, but it cannot be more importantly.  Can you hear how ignorant that sounds that something is more importantly than another thing?  Yet everyone says more importantly today, including the so-called experts on television.  I went to a school where news broadcasting was a major, where people had to get a degree in how to speak on television.  So I have to wonder, why wasn’t being in command of the English language a prerequisite for that degree?
As a former college professor, I can tell you that it is not a prerequisite for college acceptance, at least not at the state school where I taught.  My very first semester teaching, I went to the head of my department and expressed that 90% of my class was in danger of failing because they could not write a complete sentence.  I am not exaggerating here.  I was teaching freshman composition and I found myself having to spend more time on basic English grammar like, and I quote, “a noun verbing” in order to teach them how to write before I could teach them how to write
So please, the next time you are about say more importantly, or irregardless, or gonna instead of going to, think twice.  The schools are not going to teach our children to sound intelligent; they are going to let their ignorance slide.  If you want your children, your broadcasters, and yes, even your politicians to sound intelligent, you have to lead by example because if public education isn’t going to provide pencils or proper spelling requirements, they certainly aren’t going to worry about modifiers and participles.