This next bit worries me almost as much as last week’s story (about Minnesota’s “social studies standards” being turned into nothing more than lefty indoctrination).
I was a teacher in the inner city between 1992 and 1996 and immediately realized that those unfortunate kids could not read anything, because nearly every sentence had at least one word they had never seen before. This went for magazine and newspaper articles as well as traditional English stuff. I was not shoving college chemistry texts or The Fall of the House of Usher at them. (Read Poe to a 16 year old today and you will get the glassiest stare imaginable; in Usher, there are 20-25 words in the first paragraph, as well as a round-about way of expression, that would totally defeat all but the brightest teen.)
Now, I”m not sure how many teenagers could follow Usher even 30 years ago. Still, there’s no question; literacy is receding in our country:
They said they don’t like black and white films, and they didn’t, but I truly believe they didn’t like how much people talked. Watch a Bogart film and see how much of the action is moved by dialogue, sophisticated and adult dialogue, and compare the number and length of words to a contemporary film.
And it’s not just schools or pop culture:
Or, my personal favorite annoyance, my church sings all Contemporary Christian Music, what I call Sesame Street music. There are few words of more than one syllable. I
It’s one of the reasons I seek out churches whose hymnals include no music written after 1880.
How does one reverse this? I spent a long time encouraging them to see the value of having more tools in their linguistic tool box, but when f*** is their primary adjective and adverb, when using “big” words is excoriated, and every “art” form they enjoy diminishes rather than exalts language, what could I do? Read to them, put lists of words they would never see again on the board, encourage expression with some complexity. Not generally fruitful options.
On the one hand, while it was an awful movie, I did like the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes MTV-friendliy version of Romeo and Juliet if only because it demanded its audience keep up with Shakespearean vocabulary and pacing (which may be why it flopped, but work with me here).
On the other? I despair of anything getting any better. Our nation’s media, academia and too much of our ruling class benefit from dumb subjects.