The Dumbing-Down of our Schools and the Sad Results
Something Is Very Wrong With Our School System
There is a move afoot to "dumb-down" our educational system. It is sly, and insidious, happening little by little, but happening nonetheless. Every time budget cuts are made to our schools, more and more important pieces of information are deleted from the curriculum.
This would be bad enough on its own, but the twist of the knife is that these cuts have not been across the board. No, they are stealing from our children's education in order to fatten the salaries of administrators and yes, teachers too. Sadly, while many teachers think they are underpaid, the fact is, even back when I was in school and when my kids were in school, the teachers had wonderful globe-trotting summer vacation travels to tell about. They went places my family could never afford to go--especially with a 3-month unpaid summer break. I'm sorry, but I don't call that being "underpaid." Even if they "saved up," there are so many people who barely manage to keep their families fed and in clothing and shelter and who have nothing left to save--it is a grave insult to those children to hear these stories of great (albeit educational) travels while having to share outdated books. Indeed, it is a great insult and disservice to all children to suffer using outdated materials.
Then there is the issue of teachers having to buy classroom supplies out-of-pocket. In a public educational system, all of those things should be provided, and they used to be. The administration across the board at all levels needs to take a pay cut, and return those monies for classroom use.
The End Result: Errors Everywhere Every Day
On a daily basis, everywhere from news articles online from such erstwhile reliable sources as the Washington Post or the New York Times, down to 'everyday folk' penning thoughts on Face Book and other social media sites, I come across blunders in the use of English that shock and startle me.
These slip-ups range from spelling errors to incorrect word usage. Most of these mistakes are on simple words and concepts that should have been learned back in grade school (or perhaps you call it grammar school or elementary school--depending on your age and region).
Such errors disrupt my train of thought and are very distracting. I wonder: do newspaper and book publishers no longer employ proof readers? It does not seem so. The other half of the coin, I fear, is the 'dumbing-down' of our educational system. As the economy spirals downward, it seems the first victims from which funds are taken are our schools. I cannot imagine a more counter-productive action, nor a worse place for cutting corners.
To be sure, English is a devilishly maddening language to learn, with so many of its words borrowed from other languages, and Anglicized for our use. There is the further problem of many words which sound alike, but have very different meanings. In spoken language, the problem is not noticed, for the context of the sentence provides the correct and intended meaning.
When writing, however, there are worlds of difference between many of these sound-alike words (homophones). It is vital to communication to get the correct word on paper, or typed in and sent through cyber-space. Spelling and correct word choice do matter ! When I see these types of mistakes, I cringe. I feel embarrassed for the writer. Careless or uninformed errors harm one's credibility.
The occasional typographical error can also slip through even some of the best proof readers. The problems to which I refer, however, are not simple typos. They are just plain wrong word choices. (I make allowances for such character-delimited services as Twitter, which force odd spellings and cryptic abbreviations.)
Spell Checker Cannot Do It All
One problem, caused in large part by the advent and proliferation of our modern computers, is the infamous spell checker utility. "But I used spell-checker," I hear people say all the time. Maybe so. But spell check programs only check spelling, not usage. They cannot recognize context errors. Therefore, it behooves us to re-read everything at least twice, and preferably, have it read again by someone else who is emotionally distant from the piece of writing. Carpenters have a saying: "Measure twice; cut once." Writers should use a similar adage: "Write once, proofread several times, print once!"
Personally, I have found it helpful to print out a draft copy, and read the material on paper. For some reason, things want to slip past my vision on the computer screen. Having a hard copy in hand, and a pencil at the ready is a useful tool in catching any typos. It can also help anyone having problems with certain confusing words. Anything of which you are unsure, circle on the printout, then look up those words in the dictionary to verify or correct your usage.
Below is a random sampling of the sort of mistakes I come across on a daily basis. I have placed them in sets that are most often confused one for the other:
- Heal To cure or mend, as a doctor heals the patient.
- Heel The rear-most part of the foot; "I went barefoot and got a thorn in my heel."
- There A place or spot: "Put the book over there."
- Their Possesive form of they. "It is their book."
- They're Contraction of "they are." Verb form. "They're going to the park."
- Sale Offered for purchase at a discounted price. "The shoes are on sale."
- Sail Large piece of fabric rigged to propel a sailboat. "Before we can get underway, we must hoist the sail."
- Hear To take in information via the ears. "I hear the music."
- Here A place or spot at the location of the speaker. "Please come here."(Alternately, an item in transition from one person to another, or having its location pointed out), " Here is the book you requested."
- cite To make reference. "The report must cite all research sources."
- site Location. "The site of the latest dig turned up many interesting artifacts."
- sight Vision; seeing with the eyes. "As we age, our sight may be improved by using glasses."
And finally, my most pet peeve, the mixing up of then and than:
- then A reference to time or sequence: "We are going to the store, then we will go home and cook dinner."
- than A comparison between two things: "I would rather have chocolate than vanilla."
Why Does This Happen?
You can thank the government for using false and misleading programs such as "No Child Left Behind," when in point of fact, that program leaves all kids behind. In their eagerness to show off "improved school performance" by means of standardized test scores, what has actually happened is a phenomenon called "teaching to the test." It is shallow learning, based only upon filling in the correct "bubble" on a test form. There is no background, no depth, no room for sideways exploration of related topics.
Everything is so test-driven that in the end, true education ends up on the cutting room floor, and we mass-produce high school "graduates" who are unable to function in society. If you are ever in doubt, stay up and watch Jay Leno some night when he runs his "Jay-Walking" episodes. He goes out and asks (supposedly) common knowledge questions to folks walking down the street. These are not complex questions--and the number of people who do not know the answers to basic questions we should all have learned in grade school, and who give off-the-wall crazy answers showing off their ignorance is astounding, and scary! (See the sample below.)
This has been going on for a long, long time, and the quality of our educational system has suffered. I, myself, hold a 2-year (Associate in Arts) degree in Liberal Arts. It is probably about equivalent to my mother's high-school-only education twenty-three years before my own high school graduation. Today, we are advised that news articles should be geared for those of an 8th-grade reading level. That is what we are pushing out as graduates from our high schools--people who should be functioning at a 12th-grade level, but we are accepting as normal a 4-year lag. This means that today's 4-year college grads probably hold an education worth about what my own high school education was worth.
The Blame Is Shared, But Unevenly So
There are oh, so many more, but I'll leave it at this for today. The point is, shouldn't these things have been learned or taught in school? Shouldn't the teachers strive to keep lessons interesting for the children, so they can learn, and enjoy doing so?
Yes, parents, too, have an obligation to support their kids' efforts in learning, and teach them to pay attention in school, for after all, you only get out of something what you put into it. However, if the government (at all levels) were not so concerned with wasting money on unnecessary foolishness and instead gave full support to true learning, our schools would be a shining example to the rest oft he world, instead of trailing so far behind.
In Summary, Beware!
Remember, in this interconnected world wide web, all eyes are upon us. Who knows, one day a potential employer may research job candidates online (yes, it is already happening), and when that employer comes across such errors, the applicant's chances are going to be hurt, make no mistake.
© 2010 Liz Elias
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