Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reading IS Fundamental

Originally uploaded by katzeye

Reading IS Fundamental

We had company the other night, and my sister-in-law was telling me about a school district with which she is familiar (I think she said that one of her kids are in this district, and I am hoping that my memory is inaccurate on this detail), that has decided to eliminate all literature classes because the kids need to be taught the basic skills of spelling and grammar instead.

Now, I would be the first to agree that such basics as spelling and grammar have totally slid into a black hole and that it appears that illiteracy is experiencing a revival. I suspect that TV was the first hit on literacy. Some people began to watch more and read less. Computers took a hit, as they provided additional entertainment and encouraged less reading. Instant messaging and text messaging seem to have delivered grave blows to literacy.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a passion for technology, and don’t know where I’d be without texting, but I am concerned that we are losing something.

All around me, even in professionally printed signs, and professionally designed websites, I see the following:

“Your really gonna love this.” I am somewhat okay with “gonna” because it is just slang, and as long as it doesn’t start to appear in scholarly essays, I will just accept that. But “Your” is a possessive so it means, “your dog,” “your hat,” “your husband”, “your illiteracy.” It can never mean, “Your invited,” or “your so funny!” Your so funny what? Your so funny dog, hat, husband, or illiteracy?

It’s YOU’RE invited, which means, YOU ARE invited!! You are likely to appreciate this (your really gonna love this)!

Also, “each other” are two words, not “eachother,” and “a lot” are two words and not “alot,” and it’s “we were supposed to…” and not “suppose to,” and it’s we went “across the street,” not “acrossed the street,” or “acrosst,” It’s “I’m not used to this,” not
I’m not use to this,” and, “this just makes things worse,” not “worst,” etc.

Oh, and these ones really get me, “Me and him went to the park,” “Her and I had an argument,” “His and I’s website.” What the hey? What’s with that? I am starting to think that there is a new, emerging sub language of illiteracy.

And while I am at it, an apostrophe is not required before every “s” and quotation marks are only used for quotations or for “supposedlies.” Yes, it is okay, rarely, to make up words, and I just made that one up to describe itself. I was a teenager in the 1960s. Notice, there is no apostrophe. I buy a lot of blank CDs and DVDs. NO APROSTROPHE!!! Are these Sheila’s CDs? Notice where the apostrophe goes. It is used for possessives, contractions, and, in pairs, for a quote within a quote.

So, yes, illiteracy is on the rise. And yes, something has to be done about it. I have gone to forums online to learn how to do some technical thing, or to get some kind of information and found people writing as if they are adults who stopped learning to write in the 1st grade. I do not have the patience to try to decipher someone’s inability to write a clear sentence.

I used to work for an English professor at CSULB. He was working with seniors in the teacher ed. program, and gave me their essays to evaluate and grade. It was the most depressing job I ever had. These were students about to graduate, get their teaching credentials, and teach our children how to write. 80% of these students had trouble constructing a clear sentence. Terrifying!

So, it is true that students need to learn the basics of writing clearly and intelligibly. But do we go about that by eliminating lit classes?

As a very young child, I was surrounded by a plethora of endless books. There were floor to ceiling bookshelves, but, in addition, there were bookshelves in every room of the house, and I do not exaggerate. I grew up with the idea that books were important, that they lined the walls of homes, and that they were worth reading, regularly. My parents read daily, and they read to us daily. My dad read us Shakespeare, Milton, Carroll and The Wind in the Willows from the time we could sit on his lap. Those are among my favorite memories.

I recall longing to learn to read, and before long, I was. Fortunately, my reading habit was fairly well established prior to first grade, when suddenly I was confronted with Dick and Jane. Such a contrast to Shakespeare!

When I got to HS, I was fortunate to attend a savvy school that had majors. They saw that while my math skills might be lacking (largely due to a lack of interest), (no pun intended), that my literary skills were big and wide, and so, I was able to skip the basic English classes where they studied grammar, punctuation, and sentence diagramming (remember that?). I was declared an English Lit major and I was put into all the best, most interesting literature classes and so, throughout HS, I was able to learn Middle English, analyze poetry, write all kinds of stuff, and read a very amazingly wide gamut of literature from around the world and from many centuries.

So, one might ask. How did I learn enough basic grammar skills to be able to be a freelance editor today?

I learned it from reading. I can skim a work of text and my head and my eye, instantly spot the punctuation error, the sentence that is poorly constructed, the descriptive word that, due to its position in a sentence, is describing the wrong word, and the ungrammatical usage. It’s not because I am some kind of idiot savant, it is not because I use my computer’s spell check or grammar check (and those can be inaccurate) and it is definitely not because I have studied these basics. It is because I have been read to since birth, and because of that, learned to read at age 4, and because of that, have had a passion for books, and because of that, I have an inherent knowledge of how things are to be written.

I have never had a basic English class. Never.

I have a friend who has taught them, though, at the college level. She is very smart and has written books on Shakespeare for kids. She wrote her dissertation on how language skills affect thinking skills. Often, people think that the words that we use are a result of our thoughts. This is true at a simplistic level. But her theory is that the better our literary skills; the better we can think.

Anyone who has learned another language knows how it opens you up to the nuances of the human experience. There are words in French, for instance, for feelings, that do not translate into English. So, if you only know English, you could even be limiting your emotional experiences!

So, I wish to declare that the way to increase literacy is not through memorizing rules of grammar, it is through loving to read, continuing to love to read, and in reading as much as possible, always! It’s just that simple! And that, wonderfully complex!