Why can't bright young people spell, punctuate, or form grammatical sentences?

Look, I myself have instances of fumblefingers, and I make typos from time to time. I'm no stickler for Oxford English and I pepper my writing with colloquialisms. I use "ain't" and "gonna" and "hopefully" (which technically should be "one hopes"). Occasionally, I'll even say "anxious" when I should say "eager" (to be anxious is to be suffering from anxiety, not full of anticipation).

However, there seem to be two categories of people who don't know how to spell, to puncuate, or form actual sentences. 1) Hillbillies playing a banjo out on some Appalachian porch or 2) people under the age of 30.

Did the schools stop teaching English? Did it become an optional course in high school? Were the kids skipping class in favor of smoking dope? Is it too much texting? What's going on here?

By cracky (LOL), back in my day we graduated students prepared for college. Today many good institutions of higher education spend the first year bringing the students up to speed on skills they should have learned in high school.

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Very important point. I generally consider my majority-rural private Christian schooling to be a bad joke and something that I regret to have had as my only real option, but my early elementary school teachers did use phonics to teach spelling, something I remember to this day, and I think it has done much for my spelling ability. My mother also deserves credit, as she considered literacy and a good vocabulary to be important, even if she did fail the critical thinking test when it came to religion.

One gets the impression that today "education" is a lot more about socialization than education. We're producing well-adjusted uneducated imbeciles, or at least that appears to be the function of pre-college education today. We've let the schools take over too much of the parenting role and parents have been usurping the authority of the educators, defending their child's dysfunctional behavior at every turn. The situation is a total SNAFU (you can ask you father or grandfather what that is an acronym for...or you can google it). I'm not optimistic.

The #1 thing today appears to be "Let's not damage their tender little psyches." Well, our children are a whole lot stronger and more resilient than some of these people give them credit for. We're the species that used to go out and kill mastodons for lunch, and apparently we brought our wives and children along.

As a teacher I 100% agree that much of the authority of educators has been usurped I am sick and tired of parents making excuses for their children's behavior instead of actually making their child responsible by giving them real consequences. I also agree that children are much more resilient than many people typically give them credit for.

"Everyone talks about leaving a better planet for the children, but no one is leaving better children for the planet."

Gosh, I absolutely agree. The authority of teachers has been eroded. I tell our children that if their teachers tell them to jump I expect them to jump and that if i learn of misbehavior at school it will have consequences at home as well. At times I might disagree with a teacher but I would have that disagree in private, never in front of my child. I would say that children are resilient but what many parents are doing today is making them less so, and making them more "precious", this is something our world will pay for in the future.

I disagree with the idea that children need to be sheltered from disappointment and failure. Learning to deal with those things can't be learned without exposure to them. They need to learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep plugging away.

Simon, thanks for completing the thought. Great post; Galen as well.

And with that, I will agree and disagree (I love this place!)

The profusion of and interactive nature of sms and chat, internet forums, and those using horrid phone interfaces does accelerate the evolution of language-- re-cycling text convention and verbal back and forth --and introduces a hybridization of written and verbal (natural) language in a way that is unsettling to the concept of written language, because it creates a breeding ground that never before existed. 

I wouldn't view this as simply a good or bad thing. It gives precedent to do away with some hanging, pointless and awkward elements of English that need streamlining more readily, and allows for further infusion from other languages- something English has historically been enthusiastically embracing with regards to. Howerver...

Internet and txt spk also incorporate a limited vocabulary, whilst operating on an imposed efficiency that also has its pros and cons. This seems to have the effect of shrinking the vocabulary of those that don't also read and write college-level content, to a collection of misspelled and ill-chosen words and memes. As far as the memes are concerned, that's a problem with people in general. They're helpful when used to communicate ideas, especially complex ones, but depending too much on them makes one an unthinking bore. (I mean meme in the academic, anthropological sense, not net memes specifically, though they certainly apply.)

This might work well as a global language, but I doubt it as there are innumerable national iterations of co-opted English. Having some standard while still being aware of and acknowledging natural language evolution in  face-to-face and text/internet would seem to me, to be the most prudent approach.

Dependence on spell check has its own pitfalls. To wit:


I don't have perfect spelling, but I spell well enough to know when I need to consult a dictionary (site). If you find a misspelled word in my writing it's either one of two things: 1) a typo (fumblefingers) or 2) it's a momentary lapse (happens more frequently as you age).

Spell check! I kind of forgot about that point, despite already mentioning it, lol. I saw an article about a study that talked about how we offload the task of remembering certain things if we can access it online. It makes sense that that would apply to spelling as well. Before I got a cell phone (yeah, I just dated myself there a little, I know. Partly I'm just a little socially backward) I would talk about how people with mobiles don't remember anyone's number. Now I haven't been certain of anyone's number other than my own in years!

This, too, has its drawbacks and advantages. As long as you don't sacrifice too much remembered information, you can free your brain to do and remember more things by not committing to memory arbitrary facts and figures that can be easily retrieved online or otherwise.

From @Afton:

 I was actually made fun of by my so-called friends when I was in high school, on more than a couple of occasions, for speaking proper English instead of slang or misusing words (such as "epic" or "über").

What I find most interesting about this type of discussion is not so much who's right or wrong, but the fact that most people respond rather seriously at times to the peer pressure to speak "appropriately". This is true in both the more established (and respected) grammar nazi culture, and the less established and respected, Other sub-cultures. (I'm not taking the time to express this more clearly, because my mouth is bigger than my brain. No, wait, if that doesn't make sense, please, just skip it.) Anyweighs [see my clever metaphoring?], the most appropriate way to speak depends on the culture/sub-culture one's in, and the current social mix of commincatees. (I KNOW most of you are getting this! But it probably won't be long before some people walk out of the room saying "enough already, my brain hurts".)

The social context is most powerful among adolescents, when their hormones and personality growth are at max, and they're spending much more time fitting into a peer group than learning to communicate with a wider demographic mix (especially age-wise) of other humans. It feels more important to fit into the peer group with "appropriate" vernacular and cliches than to conform grammar-wise to the higher Arty on the hierarchy, who's likely currently snoozing on the sofa in front of the TV while the spouse is in a different room.

Suggestion: don't work too hard trying to decipher me. Just move along, nothing to see here. I may come back to make this all more readable, or just delete it.

Another interesting (to me) thing is I've noticed how I sometimes mistakenly write the wrong their or there or they're or here or hear, and so on, feel me? Because those words sound the same! But I almost always right the wrong writing. But I mean, I almost always correct those they'res there with the write their, or similar. No what I'm sane? Never mind.

But my point is that when I make those mistakes with the there/their/they're (and so on), I'm usually trying to write in a hurry (whoops, I first wrote hurray instead of hurry... sorry for the diversion), so I'm guessing that kids make those mistakes often while frantically punching out their text message, and they just learn to accept (except?) each other's spontaneous mistakes instead of taking more time to correct them.

Hey man, it sounded right when I wrote it. Blame the phonics!


Oh, btw, I welcome any corrections or suggestions wrt how to communicate more effectively, even if (or especially if?) some of my carelessness appears intentional.

Too funny. Blatantly pointing out the enormous pressure to write with a high degree of grammatical correctness in a discussion of grammatical correctness while tossing those rules out the window is a bold and pithy move.

I approve.

There are different levels of writing, each with different demands. I am writing about the inability to rise out of the very bottom level of skill.

Yeah, that's valid. When I think about it in that light, I realize that my parents would never have let me get away with turning in a paper with too much ignorance of appropriate English. So as far as where the failure is, it seems it would have to be teachers accepting poor language skills, and/or parents who fail to get involved. Personally, my kids came to me fairly often for help with writing, and they became excellent students.


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