Gummed up Grammar

24 04 2012

Is grammar even taught in most public school systems in the 21st century?  Basic parts of speech and the requirements of a complete sentence are taught when students first begin to write in elementary school. In the higher grades, forming complex and compound sentences correctly will likely be addressed. Slight mention is made about the use of punctuation.

With such a neglect of focus on the rules of grammar, is it any wonder that in just a few short weeks of observation, I encountered numerous instances of the grammatical error which is the focus of this paper? The error involves contractions. The written errors involve the use of a contracted auxiliary verb on to the modal which precedes it, as in these examples:  would’ve, should’ve and might’ve.  While this syntactic construction is common, and possibly appropriate in spoken English, its use in written English is not according to acceptable Standard American English grammar guidelines.

In Middle School

While the spoken use of these sorts of contractions is understandable, their appearance in writing finds no welcome residence. Since I work as an instructional assistant at a public middle school, I’m exposed to “teen speak” and the translation of the same into written form. It’s disturbing to me that after seven or eight years of education, many students still attempt to write essays and papers using informal, spoken English rather than proper grammar, according to the rules of Standard American English.

Recently, I’ve been helping a dozen eighth graders polish a compare and contrast essay for their language arts class. These are actual sentences taken from these essays: a) “Mr. White should of listened to his friend;” b) “To be happy, Mr. Peter could of wished his wife back again;” c) “The story would of been better if there was more action.” This list could continue. As illustrated, these students used improper syntax in their papers.

Certainly, these papers are only first drafts and mistakes should be expected. Unfortunately, there is a deeper problem here. As I sit beside the student reading the essay aloud to them, I stop after reading one of these sentences to ask, “What’s wrong with that sentence?” I point to the sentence on the paper.  They look at the sentence and answer truthfully, “It sounds fine.”  That response reveals the root of this problem. It does sound fine because it sounds exactly like what they would say.  Sounding good and being proper written English are obviously not synonymous.

At College Level

Only two weeks ago, my youngest son asked me to proofread and edit a report he had written for his psychology class. Here are two statements pulled directly from that paper: a) “the violent games should of primed;” and b) “the experimenters could of expected.” My son is 18 years old and a freshman at a prestigious private university, which required a written essay before acceptance was granted.  This same boy graduated from high school with an Honors Diploma, which required successfully passing Honors English.  He took Honors English for four years in high school and never received less than a B. At this point, should not such a person know that of is a preposition and not try to use it as a verb?

Again, the paper in question was a rough draft.  However, when I said “Would of? Really?” My son looked at me and said, “What about it?” I could only shake my head and use my pen to line out of and write have above it. “We don’t write the way we talk,” I tell him. He sees my correction and says, “Of, have, big deal.” Apparently, the ability to correctly form a sentence in Standard American English is not an important skill in the mind of a college freshman. Would college professors and future employers share this flippant attitude?

Beginning and End

Clearly, this error begins with speech. Children learn language from the adults around them. Most Americans use contractions when they speak. In fact, many people would judge a person who did not use contractions in their speech as trying to “talk fancy” or as being “hoity-toity.”  I will hypothesize that speaking with improper grammar affects a person’s ability to write using proper grammar. Furthermore, I believe the propensity for children to think they can write in the same way they talk negatively impacts their ability to learn grammar in school. In fact, the non-standard spoken form of English children learn becomes their first language, making writing in Standard American English all the more challenging to ever completely master.

Is there hope for these children who are doomed to learn incorrect grammar consistently in their preschool years? Should parents modify their speech so children hear English that would translate exactly from what is heard to what is written on the page? Such an expectation is unrealistic. A possible remedy for such problems is to increase the amount of written language young children hear. This could be accomplished by reading books aloud that don’t focus too heavily on dialectic speech patterns. However, within the educational system, most teachers have learned not to rely too heavily on parental participation.

This means that these types of books should be read aloud frequently and consistently in preschool through primary grades. Also, teachers should model English grammar in its written form and require students to practice using it as soon as they learn to write. Language skills might be introduced through speaking, but the perfection of these skills can only be accomplished through writing and reading and writing some more.


I’m Organized – Right?

14 04 2012

I like to think that for a middle-aged co-ed organization (or lack thereof) isn’t an issue. After all, we’ve had years to perfect and refine our organization systems.

This week, a blog I follow mentioned that checking out our Myers-Briggs personality results might help us become more organized. Click here to read that story:

I have to admit that I was slightly chagrined that after spending eight weeks studying personality, I hadn’t thought of that connection. Whoops! I think I focus too much on getting the work done so I can pass ace the class, making forming interesting hypotheses like the one Ms. Lamb proposed less likely.

Personality leads to purpose

The point of making the connection between your personality type and its alter-ego is so you will set personal goals. Or maybe the point is that you’ll face your weaknesses with renewed vigor. In either case, forward progress toward success is the intention. I find that I set my goals too high so discouragement overwhelms me into complacency. Either that or I give myself too many lofty goals at one time.

I think the problem could be that I have a Type A brain inside a Type B body. My mind generates thousands of incredible ideas each day, but the time (or perhaps energy) to act upon them exists in an alternate universe. Or somewhere else rather than with me in the here and now.

The irony of this is that I figured once I had an empty nest, there would be time aplenty to accomplish every whim my heart concocted. When my kids were younger (both of them in elementary school), I whittled down a lengthy to-do list each day. Of course, I didn’t have a full-time job and I wasn’t a student either. (Does that sound like rationalization or justification?) Now, the rooms may be empty but I’m tied to my computer and my textbooks if I’m not at the school working.

This looks like the desk of an organized person, right?

Time for another reality check. When I graduate from college in May 2013 (I’m grinning like a fool here!!), maybe that sort of vision will manifest itself. For now, I’m happy if I can find what I need on my desk, if my computer works as expected and I get eight hours of sleep per night.  Have I set my expectations too low?

Approaching Senior Year

8 04 2012

One of my appointments during my non-Spring Break was with my academic advisor. This middle-aged coed could hardly contain her excitement when she mapped out the next year of college classes only to realize – it’s almost over!

In fact, it seems that at the end of next term, I will officially be a senior, with only five terms (30 credits) remaining. To say my grin stretched off my face might possibly be an understatement.  I walked on air and jumped for joy and danced a jig of delight.

Then I had to sit down and perform interviews with my two sons for my journalism mid-term assignment. How fast can the balloon of excitement be deflated? If your talkative son answers all the interview questions with perfunctory answers – about two minutes.

Being a senior
Of course, the excitement wore off. It was helped along by my research of the most profitable or employable college majors for the journalism article (which I hope to publish on this blog at the end of the month). I realized graduating from college only meant one thing: I needed to decide what sort of career to pursue.

Cap, Gown & Diploma! Now what?

In a previous blog, I mentioned that my intention is to become a published author. However, if I continue in the self-publishing vein embarked upon with this blog, I won’t be earning much money. Money itself is over-rated.  It’s the things that money can supply – food, shelter and clothing – that tend to capture my interest.

I may have mentioned that I have a “Sugar Daddy.” That would be my husband. His nearly 25-year-old degree in computer systems engineering keeps me fed, sheltered and clothed. In short, making a huge salary isn’t necessarily a primary consideration for my future.

Would it be nice to buy that Lexus 450h with cash from my book contract advance? Most definitely. I picture myself cruising along with another smile exercising my facial muscles in that glorious vehicle that costs over $50,000. Is having such a luxurious vehicle necessary for my existence or happiness? Absolutely not.

If I don’t care about a big salary, what’s the big deal? The problem comes from all the questions other people ask. “What are you going to do?” Every single one of them wonders. “I’m going to publish a breakout novel,” I blithely reply. Sure, you and a million other wanna-be writers.

The same internet findings that endorsed my son’s career paths decimated my own hopefulness by listing my degree at the top of the most useless degrees chart. Other articles are published about how people with multiple college degrees settle for jobs as bartenders or sales clerks because there are no employment opportunities in their chosen field. Yikes! Sure, I don’t have to make any money, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be able to get a better job than the one I have now after investing three years and over $30,000 in a college education.

Reality Check
Truth #1: I went into this program hoping to become a language arts teacher when I finished. Of course, all the layoffs and school year reductions in the state where I live discouraged that plan. Education ranks in the top five on the list of most useful degrees published by the Newsweek Daily Beast. That’s no guarantee a job market exists where I live.

Truth #2: I’m getting burnt out on the whole classroom environment. American students don’t value education. In their world of electronics and entertainment, learning reading, writing and math skills seems pointless. Appreciation for their teachers ranks far below their awe of Facebook.

Truth#3: I enjoy editing. I don’t even mind marking up my own work. After all, those ink marks don’t make me an inferior artist at the craft of writing. Do I enjoy editing as much as creating characters and plots? If I said yes, everyone who knows my heart would scream in outrage.  Honestly, there are very few things that exhilarate me like imagining a story and seeing it come to life on paper.

Why all of this soul-baring? I need to be inspired to keep working toward obtaining my degree.  All that remains are English and literature classes (finally). When I think of May 2013, I smile. What comes after that? Only the Lord knows.

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