There seems to be a small movement afoot on certain educational fronts that wants to go a tad easier on grading students on their use of language skills. The rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation, these educators believe, should be suspended in the course of writing essays in the classroom.
Some educators say that to be marked down for poor spelling, grammar and punctuation in exams would be “elitist.”
There are also those who find the requirement for a high level of proficiency in written English can be seen as “homogeneous, North European, white, male, and elite.” Some universities have been adopting so-called “inclusive assessment,” a more flexible scheme to level the playing field for students. Its plan is to encourage students to develop a “more authentic academic voice… that celebrates, rather than obscures, their particular background or characteristics.”
This comes at a time when standards of usage among an entire generation of English-speaking university students are now so poor that a British publisher of dictionaries sounded an alarm that there is “a degree of crisis” in their written use of the language.
So, the best way to combat a crisis is to lower its severity by lowering the standards that define it by even further so that we just learn to live with it? Call it what you may, but I believe it’s yet another step in the dumbing down of the citizenry while accepting poor academic achievement as standard. The only way to level an academic playing field is to insist that everyone perform at the worst performer’s level.
When Lewis and Clark led the Corps of Discovery expedition, they kept detailed journals that reflected the use of a language not nearly as standardized as today.
“The men’s erratic, but delightful and ingenious, manner of spelling and capitalizing creates the most perplexing difficulties of all,” wrote author Robert B. Betts. “This is especially true of Clark, who was not only the master misspeller of them all, but also displayed dazzling virtuosity in his approach to punctuation, capitalization, and simple sentence structure.” He points out that “Clark spelled the word Sioux no less than twenty-seven different ways.”
Indeed, Clark apparently had little respect for somebody who knew only one way to spell a word.
In a way, the Lewis and Clark paradigm is closely akin to what is being touted by those wishing to offer forgiveness to those misusing the English language—the difference being that then there were only usage standards established regionally. In their writings, the explorers expressed information in ways that reflected their cultural heritage, characteristics, and education. (Clark was just barely educated.)
Of course, the journals of the expedition were written starting in 1803 and were not widely available to scholars, researchers, and the reading public until 1818. There have been tremendous strides in linguistics and education in the last two centuries, especially with the public access that Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned the Corps of Discovery, promoted.
What some researchers believe have led to this latest decline of language skills is the computer.
Students have only a limited grasp of the most basic rules of spelling, punctuation and meaning because of an increasing dependence on “automatic tools” such as computer spellchecks, grammar applications and unprecedented access to rapid communication using email and the internet.
If dependence on computer software is leading to our inability to communicate effectively and with precision, then we need to address that problem rather than to appease those whose scholastic skills are, in all reality, a result of laziness.
In baseball, the line from home plate to first base is 90 feet. An average right-handed base runner gets there in about 4.5 seconds. If an aspiring player takes 6 seconds, the league does not shorten the distance between the bases; they merely suggest that the guy find a different line of work.
The expression “Next,” was coined to tell an auditionee that his or her perceived lack of talent was not suitable to the play being cast.
Grade inflation was an issue when I was in high school. That was defined as the awarding of higher grades than students deserved either to maintain a school’s academic reputation or as a result of diminished teacher expectations.
Things haven’t really changed.
Social reality seems like something we’re willing to sacrifice to make ourselves feel better based on false premises. If one believes that 2+2=3, that doesn’t make it true. Nor does it help to solve the problems of the world which is an effort richly deserving of our attention and duty.
As a nation, we seem eager to reward each other for just showing up. Children are typically smart enough to know they lost the game and that the participation trophy is an empty honor.
I went to high school with Dan Issel, the Olympic basketball player who had a stellar career that ended with his coaching of the Denver Nuggets. On the asphalt-paved courts in our boyhood neighborhoods, the 6’9″ all-American demonstrated that my basketball skills were limited—at best.
It was an important, hard-fought lesson.
Nobody should have lowered the height of the hoop, or shorten the distance from goal to goal, to make me a better player at the expense of those who could jump, pass and shoot in regulation.
Lower standards do not contribute to either proficiency or equality.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
I love gnocchi, but I find the potato variety far less than fool-proof. This is a recipe that makes an easy, never-fail dish that is guaranteed to delight.
8 oz. ricotta cheese
7 oz. plain flour
1 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 egg yolks
Small scraping of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Mix all of the ingredients and wrap in plastic wrap to rest for 30 minutes. Remove, divide into three pieces. Roll out each piece into logs about an inch in width. Cut into one-inch pieces and indent with the tines of a fork.
Sauté three (or more) cloves of minced garlic along with red pepper flakes in olive oil until fragrant (a minute or two). Add a 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes and stir until well blended. Add a handful of torn fresh basil leaves. Plate the gnocchi and add the sauce on top.