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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do Not Flush!!! Grammar Issues in the Bathroom

While at the Town & Country HCC campus, I was in a hurry to use the restroom during a quick break between teaching classes.  I rushed into the nearest open stall, did my business, and was just about to flush the toilet and step out when I was confronted by this sign on the wall:

feminine napkins or tampons

I immediately pulled my hand back, grabbed my purse, and started to leave  the stall before I thought to myself “Wait a minute….that’s gross!” After rereading the sign, I realized what I had missed during my initial glance, but it made me wonder just how many people had left without stopping to question their first reading of the sign.  On top of that, the sign was posted on all 4 walls of each stall and every 2 feet along the sink mirror.  It made me think something truly horrible must have happened the last time someone flushed a pad down the toilet, something along the lines of Godzilla.

I’d hate to have been on the janitorial staff servicing that bathroom.  Forget having to clean the space, just having to use the facilities could be distasteful if I’d been to a stall that someone else had previously used.  Whoever made that sign was responsible for creating the mess. 

In case you’re still confused about why this sign led to miscommunication, there are two problems with it. First of all, the font size used for the directive “DO NOT FLUSH” dwarfs the rest of the message, capturing readers’ attention and blocking or hiding the much smaller words. Secondly, the exclamation points that follow the command stop the reader’s brain from processing the rest of the message because exclamation points indicate the end of a statement by taking the place of periods in exclamatory sentences. 

I love using this anecdote to illustrate to students the need for attention to grammar.  If they were janitors trying to make their work easier by putting up signs for customers, they could potentially be complicating their lives if their signs were badly constructed.   Most students laugh and say they won’t be house-cleaners when they graduate, and I make sure to tell them that I would hope not. I want them to aspire for more in their lives! Not that there’s anything shameful about being a custodian;  I’d challenge anyone to trade places with a stay-at-home mother or manual laborer and not end up exhausted after a hard day’s work.  Manual labor jobs don’t usually provide living wages, though, and I want better for my students than living paycheck to paycheck. 

What I hear quite a bit from students is that they will have jobs where they won’t need to write. People on the lower rungs, like secretaries or assistants, do all the writing, but not nurses/engineers/<insert the career they’re studying for>.  It comes as a shock for many to hear that my mom writes e-mails to other nurses and managers on an almost daily basis, in addition to the notes she has to make on patient charts and signs she posts around the unit.  My father was a civil engineer and he churned out proposals, memos, project reports, and letters around the clock.  There are no “assistants” who do all the writing for the professionals; it saves companies so much money to hire professionals who can do their own writing that it has now become a requirement for succeeding in the work force.

I’m off to visit family in San Antonio! Happy writing ‘till I get  back!

Photo credit: Mirjam van den Berg


From one teacher to another, THANK YOU! You may think I'm shameless but I just printed your latest blog post on grammar and the importance of writing and used it as my lesson. It was Friday and I was tired from the incessant buzz of kid activity. Lately I have been feeling tired, so tired from pointless meetings and pointless committees, grading, and mundane lunch time duties and after school “mingling with the students” time that you are left with no time to do your work. So I made copies, made them read it, and then we had a class discussion.

I told them that reading it and discussing your paper was a test major grade. I told them that there were no right or wrong answers, and that the topic was "Is writing important? Will writing be important to YOUR career in the future?" and that their grade would depend on how well they could articulate their responses-- Not on the responses themselves, but how well they could list and defend their reasons. Why did I do it? I'm tired of my students only responding to multiple choice questions. It's absurd how if we are to prepare them for the world, we only drill multiple choice questions on them. I tell them “Guess what, in real life there are no multiple choice problems or dilemmas”. I tell them “there are no clues and nobody will volunteer the right answer or choice to you along with 3 other wrong solutions, you get no solutions at all and you have to figure it out or fail”. I hate multiple choice questions but the school I work for makes us drown them in mc questions because they think that somehow those types of questions can give them accurate data about the students' learning... Oh poor silly school staff, do they not know any better? They think they can get meaningful data about the students from multiple choice questions. It makes it easier for them to count and tabulate the data, but it's meaningless data. It's absurd.

So anyway, we discussed and talked. After we had finished discussing the importance or writing, we talked about writing the federalist papers, writing the Magna Carta, Martin Luther writing his critique of the church The Ninety Five Theses, and so on. And then when we were done I told them that none of their responses mattered until they submitted to me their thoughts 'in writing'. So for homework I made them write a well written paper on the importance of writing. I wish you could have seen their facial expressions when they learned they had to write a long paper for homework. IF after espousing to me that writing was important to them they decided not to write anything, I can now call them on their bullshit. I'm counting it as a test, and not turning it in counts as two test grades. You'll be happy to know that teachers of other subjects also view writing as vitally important in society.

Kindest wishes,
Amanda from Oregon

Kids everywhere are losing the capacity to write, and write effectively. Not only is their ability to put forward their ideas in a clear and logical manner virtually non existent now, but their penmanship is also seriously defective. There plenty of kids whose writing I am unable to read, and the majority have passable handwriting that I /can/ read, yet struggle quite a bit. Only 2 of my students have decent handwriting, and that's a sad sign of the times. It's not that they're unable to, it is a lack of practice. Practice does make perfect, just like playing a musical instrument, it requires hours and hours of practice. So too handwriting can only get better with practice. This is a reflection of their illiteracy and minimal time spent on task for the entirety of their academic life. It is no wonder that any iota of work that is required of them by the teachers, from writing to reading to even asking them to think for themselves, is met with violent resistance and whining. How do we fix this? With discipline, and putting more power in the hands of the teachers.

Teachers have been stripped of all power and authority over their classrooms. If we treated schools as a college environment where you either pull your own weight, learn and let other learn, and study like WE used to when we went to school, then we would see a different picture altogether. Part of the problem is that education is free. I wish education was not free for anybody, and that parents would have to pay for their children's education. If their children brought home bad grades they would have to answer to the parents.

I believe that not everyone deserves a free education because not everybody WANTS a free education. Students who refuse to learn and integrate themselves into civilized society should be allowed to fall by the way side and let natural selection weed out those undesirable people who can't cut it to live in modern society. If they can't conform and make it on today's sanitized, safe, abundant society with all its creature comforts, they would definitely not make it in the wild, or in a tribe in Africa or the Amazon.

I say make every parent pay for their kid's education and we would see a dramatic change in society. For that we would need a dramatic lowering of taxes so that the money they pay into the government, they got to keep, vote with their dollars as to what school their kid goes to. If the parents can't afford their child's education then maybe they have no business bringing children into the world.

My two cents

I'm flattered that you would use my blog post to drive class discussion, Amanda! That's awesome! It was always an uphill battle getting my high school students to write _anything_; I can definitely empathize with your struggle. If we were just given the freedom to TEACH, we could do so much more for these kids. All the administrative demands sap time and energy, though, and sometimes I would spend more time writing reports for the higher-ups than responding to student work. We had CBA's (Curriculum Based Assessments) that we had to administer at my school and the exams were created by an outside agency. They were all multiple choice and had little to do with what the students were learning at the time. In addition to administering a CBA quiz every week and a CBA test every two weeks, we had to ALSO administer our own quizzes and tests because the CBA's weren't factored into the students' grades. It was a mess and we spent more time testing the kids than teaching them.

It's SO frustrating trying to teach, that it's driving those people out of the teaching profession who are truly passionate about imparting knowledge to others. Good luck hanging in there! More and more teachers have just stopped caring and show up for the paycheck. It's obvious you're still very committed to your students and take pride in your job.

I'll try and find stuff for social studies teachers online for you. I'm a pro at finding free government and company-sponsored resources online ;).

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