COMMENTARY: Writing, Society & the Lack of Education Plaguing Our Nation

I remember being in pre-school hearing Whitney Houston sing, “I believe the children are our future: teach them well and let them lead the way…“  and as much as I’d like to say that that exists in the United States today, I would be lying if I did.

Not to generalize, but I’ve noticed a very large discrepancy in the literacy rates of our country over the past few years. Granted, I’m part of the exception and not the rule, recognizing that, does not change the problem from what it is: our school systems are failing.

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It’s something often heard about but never seen, until it’s up close, personal and in front of one’s face.

Throughout my life and all of my school career, I was the kid other kids asked to proofread their English and Literature papers. I used to think it was a compliment and in some ways it added arrogance to ego. But in retrospect, I simply do not see life like that anymore. Being the owner of the Little Pink Book I get sent all sorts of things — sample blog posts, letters, people asking my opinion on term papers, cover letters etc. The list is pretty endless and I take them in stride for what the are. I try to never judge because the people reaching out to me are doing it in good faith. I keep my Miranda Priestly moments to a minimum and channel Imagine in full throttle.

However, recently someone sent me something that truly shook me to my core. It had nothing to do with content, nothing obscene, graphic or extremist had to be had in the piece. In fact, the written specimen covered the most interesting topics, contained an ample amount of bite and its wit was well placed and intelligent.

The issue lay in the fact that an individual I deemed bright for their age, talented and insightful cannot write a formal school paper.

When I was finished proofing the piece, I was saddened by the amount of ‘red’ that oozed an ample amount of ink through the pages.

At first, the educated elitist in me wanted to cringe and look the other way. I mean, who was I to care? I was finished with school in the traditional sense and never looked back. I was not the one who was going to be getting the ‘C’ paper (and that was being lenient.) After all, graduating in the top 5% of your class from high school, going down in its hall of fame and getting your M.A. at 24-years old will do that to you. It’s the natural progression of a Type A, ambitious being. The actuality of the situation was that my more caring side took over.

At the end of this said ghastly paper, I took the time to write positive and constructive information to the student, giving them examples, suggestions and methods to improve his or herself.

It got me thinking and it had me worried.

  • Did I just critique the future of the nation in a small sample?
  • Am I living in such a bubble where I’m surrounded by people of my own educational standards, that I simply have forgotten that there is a whole, big, bad grammatically incorrect world out there? –  Most of which, by no fault of the their own.

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I often think “spell check” in computer programs make people stupid. Too often a person will rely so heavily on the spelling and grammar tool that when given a real pen and paper they cannot form a proper sentence, let alone a proper paragraph. “Their” and “there” get intermixed, as do “know” and “no,” not to mention the consistent mix ups of “too,” two” and “to.” But maybe the latter is a bit harder than both of the formers and therefore is more forgivable. I will concede that fact.

But still, does that not scare you? … just the least bit?

When I was in grade school, up until 2003 when I graduated from high school, we were told never to write in conversational tones. It’s an interesting dynamic to be had because if you venture to some of my earliest Little Pink Book posts you will find yourself reading, what I like to call, tenses in “confused tones.” These were posts that tried to be formal, but conversational because my writing skills set couldn’t figure out how to adjust to a completely FREE space, such as a blog.

But that’s the thing: this is a blog. It is a free space that I manage, I own and of which I am the dictator. I can write how I please with only myself to guide and judge.

School, work and formal writing are far different. ‘I,’ before ‘e,’ except after ‘c’ exist in this world together with their partner hyphens in crime. In this world, the suffix and the prefix come out to play and a clincher sentence is exceptionally important. It’s so important, that if done with tact and wit, it can make or break the reader’s final opinion of a piece.

One thing, however, this dimension is not open to is the conversational tone:

  • never talk in first person
  • it’s never “you,” but rather “one”
  • not everything needs to be capitalized
  • terms like “foolish” and “silly” are far more appropriate than “stupid” and “bonehead” — even though at their cores they mean the same thing. It’s understanding those key differences between terms that are important.

When did formality and the right to write as an art give way to lackadaisical verbiage fueled by ignorance? Better yet, how long has it been that way?

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Sasha Muradali runs the ‘Little Pink Book’ . She holds a B.S. in Public Relations from the University of Florida with a minor in Dance (’07) and an M.A. in International Administration from the University of Miami (’08). She loves Twitter and all things social media, so you should find her @SashaHalima or get a copy of the ‘Little Pink Book’ delivered to your Kindle.

Copyright © 2009-2010 Sasha H. Muradali. All Rights Reserved.

Comments

  1. I completely agree with you. I took an extra English class my senior year of high school which was outside of the honors program I had been in, and I was shocked to discover that some of my classmates could hardly read. Now, as an adult with a Masters degree, I am shocked when my high school age cousin says, “Oh, the spelling and grammar doesn't matter on this paper. The teacher is just grading on content.” I'm all for “grading on content” because it's far more important that the student understood what they just read, but I am completely against taking spelling and grammar out of the equation all together. I did a report in grad school about learning styles, and it's important to be open to different methods, but if we allow literacy to fall by the wayside, we're doing these young students a huge injustice.

  2. Wow, This brings back memories. Excelent post.

  3. Wow, This brings back memories. Excellent post.

  4. Well said!