Term Papers are Gr8!

I'm taking a little break from assembling facts and figures for the series on computer purchasing and just had to comment on Tech Republic's "Flagrant Grammar Mistakes."

I'm taking a little break from assembling facts and figures for the series on computer purchasing and just had to comment on Tech Republic's "10 Flagrant Grammar Mistakes that make you look stupid."  Although we are in the midst of an unprecedented revolution in the ways we work, learn, and play with technology, we are also on the edge of a MySpace-generated technology backlash.  The upswing in malware infestations, recent publicity regarding online predators, and the flocking of our students and kids to social networking sites like MySpace have left an awful lot of people wondering if we weren't better off before our lives became so heavily digitized.

At the very least, we could probably write a lot better.  As TechRepublic's Jodi Gilbert points out,

These days, we tend to communicate via the keyboard as much as we do verbally...When we commit a grammatical crime in e-mails, discussion posts, reports, memos, and other professional documents, there's no going back. We've just officially gone on record as being careless or clueless.

As most of us know, there are few people to whom this applies more than our students. These kids live in a world of emoticons and corruptions of spelling and grammar designed to save a few keystrokes on Instant Messenger or a discussion board.  Unfortunately, this same generation has largely stopped distinguishing between the professional documents noted above and a casual online conversation with friends. 

While I can LOL with the best of them, and have even been known to ROFL, I would never consider writing in anything but standard English for the majority of documents I create.  Again, while our students use Internet technologies blithely, they have no concept of the permanence of Internet communications or, in fact, of the ability for the rest of the world to see how "careless or clueless" they are.

I've started allowing my students to submit papers and essays via email.  I even let them type the text directly into emails to save time and prevent compatibility issues with various attachments.  I don't need pretty desktop publishing to see if they can tell me about XML or the inner workings of a PC.  However, if I get one more essay with an emoticon in it, I'm going to go postal.  I want to scream "It's BECAUSE, not 'cuz!"  Even the quick emails I encourage students to send to ask questions outside of class hours would often be barely decipherable if not for my oldest son who can translate teen internet-speak. 

Again, sending these quick messages to peers is one thing; sending them to a teacher is another.  Unfortunately, this then translates into the business world, where the latest crop of graduates hasn't figured out that corporate emails are official communications.  This same group who largely ignores grammar in favor of conversation and speed, tends to write term papers (and in a few years, corporate memos, documents, etc.) in the same way.

Bottom line? Most of us as educators mark kids down on papers, essays, and documents when they fail to use standard written English.  But we need to go much further.  The top 10 flagrant grammar mistakes shouldn't exist (and generally don't among the older members of the workforce) because our students should leave high school with a flawless grasp of the English language.  We not only need to obsessively teach the basics (there are those 3 R's again), but, in the digital age, need to teach students to distinguish between the new colloquialisms that are perfectly acceptable in IM, but have no place anywhere else. 

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