By Walter GeigerI have written before about my sixth grade teacher, Otha Woodcock. Her classroom loomed at the end of a long hall at Heard School. We all had to pass through it on our way to junior high and we dreaded it.Mrs. Woodcock was there to filter out those who could not properly speak and write the English language. One comma fault in a paper and you got an F. She read no further. If you did not learn, you would repeat sixth grade. It was that simple.Mrs. Woodcock didn’t have a Twitter account and that’s a good thing. It would have killed her for sure. Character limiting tweets have further bastardized the English language and that bastardization has made it into texting as well. It seems brevity trumps correctness at the expense of the properly written word.This has been a long time coming. Elementary and primary schools long ago gave up emphasizing grammar and punctuation. It is not entirely their fault. Standardized testing no longer places an emphasis on the spoken and written word and frazzled teachers are pressed by administrators to teach to the tests.To make matters worse, very few parents are actively involved in demanding their children perform well in school.If you visit facebook, you will see terrible grammar on display at every click ‘“ including on the pages of these parents and even some teachers.’˜There’ and ‘˜they’re’ are interchangeable as are ‘˜weather’ and ‘˜whether’. Even ‘˜our’ and ‘˜are’ often get swapped. Things are often listed as ‘˜for sell’. Mrs. Woodcock is no doubt spinning in her grave.Rick Diguette is a writer and English teacher at an Atlanta area community college. After keeping his head down for years in hopes of keeping his job, Diguette dared to pen a column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which he labeled community college grade 12 ½ . ‘It has become obvious to me that I am no longer teaching ‘˜college’ English,’ Diguette wrote. He continued, ‘Every semester, many students in my freshman English classes submit work that is inadequate in almost every respect. Their sentences are thickets of misplaced modifiers, vague pronoun references, conflicting tenses and subjects and verbs that don’t agree ‘“ when they remember, that is, that sentences need subjects. If that were not bad enough, the only mark of punctuation they seem capable of using with any consistency is the period.’I’m guessing Brother Diguette is seeing many of Mrs. Woodcock’s hated comma faults.The writer was on his college’s committee to create Core Concepts that students are expected to master in order that they may be ‘˜retained and graduated’. Retention and graduation are the linchpins of the state’s Complete College Georgia program. Diguette admits the standards bar has been set mighty low but the ability of freshly minted high school graduates demands it.Mrs. Woodcock made us diagram sentences. Two or three of us a day would have to diagram on the blackboard in front of class every day. To screw up just once meant an hour after school cleaning erasers from every classroom along the hall.Those were the cleanest erasers in all the long history of education but we learned. Some learned more quickly than others but we all learned.We learned because it was demanded of us.I get the sense that not much is demanded of today’s students when it comes to speaking and writing the English language.I guess they can always press 2 for Spanish. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.
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