A Rant About the Sorry State of Teenagers Today
Okay, so I’m running this contest over at my Dahl site, right? I received about forty entries all together and now I’m trying to decide who wins. I’ve got lots of nice entries from adults, and several good ones from little kids as well. But the writing in the teen age group is just unbelievably bad. I’m not talking about splitting infinitives or misusing participles or anything tricky either. I’m talking about basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You know, the stuff most people learn by the sixth grade. These “essays” were almost unreadable. I’ve never seen such run-on sentences in my life. Random words would be capitalized for no apparent reason. One kid actually wrote the word “copetishion” (as in, “competition”). My jaw hit the floor when I saw that one. The nine-year-olds’ entries were so much better! I can’t figure it out. Snookums feels that – as a former County Spelling Bee champion – I’m being prejudiced against people who have difficulty with language and spelling, but I honestly don’t feel like I’m being overly pedantic. This is basic stuff. They’re not dyslexic; they’re just sloppy. Is it that the younger kids are still at an age where teachers care about such things and therefore enforce them? Is it that teenagers just don’t care? Is it that younger kids visiting my site are probably there because they’re precocious readers (and therefore a good writers), and that most teenagers visiting will probably be looking for a book report to scam off the Internet? Or is this just the way it works, and the smart nine-year-olds of today will eventually mutate into the surly illiterate fourteen-year-olds of tomorrow? I hate to sound so cynical, but you wouldn’t believe these e-mails. Are these sub-literates representative of high schoolers today, Max? I sure as hell hope not.

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  1. Still getting mileage outta that spelling bee thing huh?? Gotta go with the Snook on this one.

  2. i’ve got your back, kris. J. and i e-mailed a ton during our five months of living apart and his constant typos and using “your” instead of “you’re” (and vice versa) almost made me rethink the relationship! i am such a spelling/grammar/etc. nazi.

    and BTW, i am still haunted by blowing “dollar” in a first grade spelling bee. look up perfectionist geek in the dictionary say hi to my smiling mug.

  3. Hey, at least “dollar” was semi-difficult for a first grader. I blew it that same year on “big”! (I spelled it backwards.)

    OI, Dad! I’m very proud of that accomplishment! 🙂

  4. i knew it was “ar” but totally choked under the pressure and said something some other kid had already said, probally “doller!” the fact that i can remember this so clearly is so very, very embarassing. 😉

  5. “Is it that younger kids visiting my site are probably there because they’re precocious readers (and therefore a good writers), and that most teenagers visiting will probably be looking for a book report to scam off the Internet?”

    You’re dead on, Kris–I won’t start a rant here, but I have reached the conclusion that strong and independent readers (those who have always read for pleasure, not because it’s assigned “work”) become good writers almost organically. It’s simple–voracious readers are exposed to more and better writing to learn from, emulate, or dismiss (I learned a lot about how not to write by reading a ton of crappy–albeit entertaining–books). I can literally look at most of the essays my students turn in and, based on their writing style and skill (not the content or penmanship), peg them as either a kid who read a ton while growing up or a kid who never cracked a book. Sometimes I almost feel like it’s too late by the time they hit my level (grade 11–about 16 or 17 years old), because language is either a joy for you (if you read) or a chore (if you don’t)…and a year in my class (or the class of any teacher who’s really trying) can only do so much. No angry letters, please–I’m not pessimistic, just realistic (and it doesn’t stop me from trying).

    Mark my words: Strong readers at age 8 will be strong writers at age 16.

    That sounded rant-ish, didn’t it? Oops.

  6. Max – Honestly that’s exactly what I hoped/feared you’d say. I just remember in high school sitting through basic grammar crap in English and thinking how stupid it was. Either you got it by that point, or you never would. And I seriously agree with you about the reading. Every single “intelligent” person I know has read for pleasure since they were a kid. And it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare; even the crappiest sci-fi teaches you something. And don’t think you should feel defensive (as a teacher) for feeling this way. Based on what I’ve heard of your classes, I only wish I’d had something similar in my high school. It might have kept me interested and a little better prepared for college.

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