Thursday, February 10, 2011

A disturbing grammatical trend...

Now that we are four weeks into the new academic semester, I have had multiple opportunities to grade my students' work. This semester, I'm teaching six classes, including three practicums. I'm grading papers for courses ranging from the entry-level Introduction to Communication Studies up to a 300-level journalism history course. The history course is the most diverse, as it is an evening course with a number of nontraditional students, many of whom are working professionals.

But, it doesn't seem to matter whether the student is an older working professional or a freshman just out of high school, one trend is clear -- grammar is dying across the board. My freshmen are particularly weak at it, making mistakes that lead me to consider drinking heavily to dull the pain of all the red marks.

I know that at some point these rules were taught to them -- at least, I presume they were. I know they were taught to my 12-year-old son, who spent last Saturday during down time at a taekwondo tournament reading some of the papers I was grading for a class. He was constantly commenting on the poor grammar, with statements such as "these are college students?" and "I learned that in the third grade! Good grief!" However, at some point between elementary school and college, it appears teachers quit giving a rat's ass about grammar in favor of "content" and "ideas." At least, that's what my students today are telling me. My question: How can you effectively convey an idea in writing if I can't understand it for your poor grammar?

Some mistakes I saw this week that made me cringe: "granite" for "granted," "boarder" for "border," "then" for "than" (at least 10 people did this), "incontinence" for "inconvenience," and I won't even begin to rant on the hundreds of punctuation errors. Apparently, no one at any age or level of education has a clue for when a comma is needed, or not.

Several years ago, when I was teaching at a different college, a student group held a faculty spelling bee as a fundraiser. I participated, as did many of the other faculty. I remember this vividly, because I was so stunned it happened, but the first five faculty to lose? English faculty members. The last three standing? All journalism faculty. The English faculty defended their defeat by saying they are more focused on the message and its meaning when they teach. The journalism faculty were at constant war with the English faculty over the inability of students who had supposedly demonstrated competency in ENG 101 and 102 in order to qualify to take the first reporting class, because the students we were getting couldn't master simple subject-verb agreement. The argument from the faculty remained the same. Again, how can you understand the message if you can't read it?

Of course, the bigger question is, can this problem be fixed? I don't know the answer to that question. I welcome your suggestions.


  1. Being his son,I agree wholeheartedly. BTW dad, are you sure that they are not kindergarteners dressed up as college students?

  2. OMG Imma try and see if I made some misteaks in my last tweet. hope not alot.

  3. PS I'm guessing none of these kids had Tiger Moms?


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