The Achingness of Culture

It always amuses me when non-writers think about writers.  In the same way it amuses me when “literary” writers talk about writing.  I amuses me even more when people much younger than I decry the evils of internet communication and roll on the floor moaning about language degradation and other such stuff.

So, you understand, ladies and gentlemen, that this David Swindle piece was like getting my own comedy show bright and early in the morning.  You see, I was stuck for something to write about and lo and behold my friend Kate sent me this.

Swindle amuses me, in general, because he seems to have got a job writing for a conservative website and decided that “conservative” means “fuddy duddy.”  It’s like he never met a conservative in real life, doesn’t get that the term is completely out of synch with what these people actually believe (by and large.  There are, of course, SOME fuddy duddys) and thinks they’re sort of like the dad in 50s sitcoms.  Therefore, like the idiot shooter carrying a chick-fil-a bag to fit in, he puts on his mental sweater and takes his “the world is coming to the end because of those d*mn whipper snappers doing doughnuts on my lawn” attitude.  And he thinks he sounds conservative, instead of odd, clueless and definitely young.

Yes, David, the world is coming to an end.  What’s more, it’s always been.  And yep, language as we know it is ending, ending, I say.  Your friends worrying about it are SO totally right.  Because language as each generation knows it ends every twenty five years or so and the accumulation of changes means that Shakespeare is now hard to read for most people.  Which means that we can no longer of course express ourselves with any richness of feeling, any thought, any depth.

Let me interject here, that I grew up in Portugal in an era when people were JUST starting to get phones into their houses.  The normal arrangement when I was three or four was for the nearest shop to take calls for everyone around.  And when you got called to the phone it was BAD.  By the time I was six, we all had phones and people called their friends a propos not much.  (Mom had EPIC gossip sessions.)  This meant we were inundated by articles about the gentle art of letter writing being lost, and this leading to a time of darkness when people didn’t know how to write.

This is what this piece reminded me of.

I am the mother of two kids who grew up in the internet age. Yep, they know all the texting abbreviations, and they have AIMed with friends since they were four or so.  Their language on the phone when talking to friends is half foreign dialect that I have to think to understand.  Eh.  So was ours.  Yes, my older son says “Lols” when amused, but only when he’s in a very informal situation.  In a non-informal situation he can write rings around most people, including dear old mom who makes her living with words.  So, incidentally, can his younger brother.  Depth of feeling?  Language levels?  Oh, please.  As in any other era, what in heavens name does fast communication have to do with the more literate, feeling-filled one?  Do you really think Shakespeare ordered fish pie in iambic pentameter?  (You might, for all I know.)

If “kids these days” can’t express themselves coherently in writing – and I’ll give you most of them can’t.  I’ve read them – it has to do with two things: first, the ability to express oneself coherently in writing is like the ability to draw something that remotely resembles the model.  There is training of course, but there has to be natural ability.  In various countries and over the last half century, I’ve come to the conclusion most people’s use of language is like most people drawing stick figures.  And it’s always been.  (I wouldn’t kick too hard.  It’s what allows some of us to make a living.)

Second even innate ability needs training.  You need to know the proper form of the language you’re writing in.  Your vocabulary must be large enough.  You must have read widely enough to KNOW the “tricks of the trade.”  Well – I know that’s where you think the internet fails you.  You are wrong.  This has been going down hill since I was in school.  It’s the schools, the schools suck.  They try to teach the kids they can’t learn and learning is “hard” – seriously, the way they go about teaching anything language related is backwards and sideways and amounts to playing keep away.  Instead of teaching the kids to sound out words, they want them to treat words like ideograms.  Instead of teaching them grammar rules, they want them to stumble on them by try-fail.  Etc.  Most current pedagogical theory is IN FACT a blockade in the way of learning.  On top of that, the schools – apparently under the impression someone died and made them the arbiters of taste – select only “worthy” books, full of victimhood and Marxism.  Most kids hate these books and never tumble on to the fact that not all books are like that.  (And to be honest, until recently, if they went by bookstores, they might be confirmed in their fears.)

In fact, to the extent the internet is affecting this trend at all, the effect is positive.  The kids mostly interface via typing and reading – so they have to learn to read which makes books more accessible to them.  And before you say they only learn to read texting – no.  From the sample I see, these kids eventually start to read news, political blogs, recipes, and A LOT of fan fiction.  Fan fiction is a mixed lot.  Anything without a gate keeper is.  There is fan fiction that makes you want to cry and pluck your eyes out.  HOWEVER some of it is more than publishable quality.  And ALL but the very bottom of the barrel expresses emotion, and delves into whatever it was your la-di-da friends thought kids had lost the ability to talk about: the secret recesses of the deceitful human heart, or whatever the heck it was.  They might punt the occasional pronoun (like, who doesn’t?) their grammar rules having been taught by people who believe in “environmental grammar” and “cultural correctness” might be shaky, but from what I’ve seen, the feeling, the sweep and the story telling is there.

So, stop fearing internet will rob the future.  It might very well save it.

As for the method one uses to write.  My kids love moleskine planners.  I buy moleskine art notebooks – mostly because they make a nice pocket sized one I can take in my purse if there’s something I want to sketch.  I would love to buy their notebooks for jotting notes like when I suddenly find myself in the middle of a news event I didn’t see coming.  But they’re really expensive, and I usually end up using hotel pads.

The whole thing about using notebooks to get the depth of feeling or what not, reminded me of when I was buying the house before last and the realtor told me that the enclosed back porch facing the mountains was “perfect to keep you inspired to write.”  I sort of blinked at her and didn’t say anything.  Since I wasn’t writing about mountains, and since writing means looking at the screen not the view, I thought she was out of her rocking mind.  But I also knew it’s a common misconception of people who AREN’T writers and who view what I do as a sort of romantic affliction, like consumption in the 19th century.  They think we roam around aching, just aching with sensibility, instead of having our heads invaded by a cavalcade of zanies who want their stories told.

Yes, perhaps moleskine is too good for me.  I prefer a computer with a fast processor and a decent monitor.  I’ve written when I’m inspired.  I’ve written when I’m not inspired.  I’ve written while happy, while bored, while ill, while tired.  I once dragged myself up after childbirth and crawled on hands and knees (I was on morphine for a raging uterine infection and it affected my sense of balance) to the computer to write a story.  Took me the whole day to type, but hey, it was an honorable mention in best fantasy and horror for 1994.

Now – do I sometimes hit a wall and have to write by hand?  Of course.  Interestingly, this is usually for OUTLINES.  This is where I need to think before every line and not be beguiled by my own word-bullshit that papers over stuff not thought through.  So sometimes I take the notebook.  The same thing when I’m struggling with the opening of a novel and trying to nail down the voice.  But once things start flowing I need to go to the keyboard.

You see, slinging words is what I do for a living.  It’s just as if I made pots for a living.  The artisan taking a class at the local continuing education center might choose to do without a wheel. He/she might see great value in the lumpy pot this produces.  But even a craft-level potter who lives from it will use a wheel.  It’s a tool that makes the work easier.

That’s what computers are.  I’ve written with quills.  I’ve written with ball point pens.  I’ve written with typewriters.  I’ve written with computers.  In general the more advanced tool and the easier to use the more I like it.  It makes it more immediate and easier to put my words into stories and the stories into the readers’ hands.

The older, artistic implements that make the work harder?  That’s for people who mistake themselves for nineteenth century poets with a vaguely romantic affliction.

I don’t write to feel superior to the illiterate hoi polloi, so putting on airs doesn’t interest me.  Producing good work (defined as what sells) does.  I’m less interested in decrying the democratization of writing, and more in praising the renaissance of reading.  You see, I work for a living…

153 responses to “The Achingness of Culture

  1. I think some schools are differing — the local ones, at least, have a huge bunch of books in the rooms of just about all kinds.

    And now I have to run off and go to lunch with the kid, for the Last Lunch of the Summer.

  2. But Sarah, this time the world *is* coming to an end!!!! [Evil Grin]

  3. Susan Shepherd

    “Fan fiction is a mixed lot” is definitely the way to put it. I’ve seen terribly written fan fiction, but I’ve also enjoyed “Game of the Gods” by Limyaael and “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” by Eliezer Yudkowsky. The latter, in particular, has become one of my favorite stories, although it is not yet completely written.

  4. Oh well, I am a little more hopeful. Unfortunately the teenagers in our area, go to the back corner of our building where we can’t see them, and giggle, smoke cigarettes and write on the walls (mainly tags). I sometimes smell some of that funky weed. I think we might be losing that generation in our area. We lost the one before. Very sad.

    • Pity you can’t go to the back corner when they’re not there and write the sayings of Lazerus Long yourself. (Or write them on post-it notes and have someone run back and stick them there?)

  5. For the writer, the tool is a tool – Shelby Foote wrote everything in longhand. If I tried that I’d still be working on my masters thesis. I hand write English-language letters to friends and type German correspondence because of the difference in German cursive vs. American cursive. It is a question of which tool serves the purpose. And do not get me started on this “whole word” and “whole language” garbage . . . grrrr. The schools are handing kids a tack-hammer and telling them to go wire a desk lamp.

    OK, back to deciphering late 19th century handwriting on cross-written letters.

    • Free-range Oyster

      “It is a question of which tool serves the purpose.”

      Exactly! I don’t understand how this came to be so hard for people to understand. On everything from how to write down your thoughts to what social media to use to reach your audience, there seem to be so many loud voices saying “This is the only way to do it!” The best advice I ever got was to use the tool that best suits you. The lady who told me that is still building the foundation of her writing career. She hasn’t broken through to selling well. But the methods she’s chosen work for her personality and lifestyle and workflow. That’s a precious thing.

      Use the tools and techniques that get you personally the results you want. Some of us are still looking for what works best. Which reminds me, I need to find a scanner that can decipher my chickenscratch for the times when my brain needs to bounce back and forth between hand written notes and typing things into a document or spreadsheet.

      TD;DR version: find what works for you, and use it.

      • How about Livescribe? You can use a digital pen and then they have a program that will turn it into text. 😉

        • Because by the time I remember the mechanics of writing (how to hold the pen, how to move the muscles), the idea, where the idea is going, and which words I want to use, I have no more memory left. I can no longer spell, and if something distracts me, I lose the thought or the mechanics. Typing uses less active memory, probably because I learned piano before I learned how to write. A letter is do-able because it is a formula. Taking dictation is similar – I’m not processing, just transcribing. I’m shy a couple RAM chips, so-to-speak.

      • What I’d love — the part of my workflow that’s antedeluvian is revision — I’d love an e-ink reader with touch screen and writing recognition, so I could make notes as I read. No, the kindle notes isn’t practical. I often write three pages in between two others, when revising.

        • Yes – I have a problem with kindle notes too… I used to write in the margins of my books (okay English lit time) ;-). But I don’t have the tools now with ebooks.

        • My kindle notes tend to be of the single word cue to what should happen variety – more of a memory-jog than actual revision notes.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Use the right tool. Yes. Handwriting for me is an impediment. I cannot write fast enough and lose what I was thinking before i get all of it down.

      This is not to say that I think exceptionally quickly. Rather, that I write very slowly.

      • Not to be the Luddite around here, but in my case, I can’t type fast enough to catch the stream of thought, and must resort to handwriting. Then again, computers also provide more of a distraction than a help. (Oo, shiny!) Guess its a case of different tools for different people.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          I think there are several people either in that same boat, or else they have written by hand so much that it can just flow out without thinking of it, so they don’t get distracted by the act of writing. I can not do that in either writing or typing, so I type, because I type about 35 wpm, but write about 15 wpm (maybe).

        • I started out that way, but the typing has gotten a lot faster. Of course the fact that my handwriting is attrocious, and even I have trouble reading it may have something to do with the (fairly) easy transfer from paper to electrons.

          • YES on not being able to read what you write. Thousand yeses — I have that issue. My handwriting is… OMG

            • To this day my mother is still mad at my 3rd grade teacher who refused to teach me better penmanship (not that I probably would have learned) because, “he is going to be a doctor and all doctors have horrible penmanship.”

              When I started surveying I learned when taking notes to write in all caps, because grammar, punctuation and whatnot are immaterial; others being able to read and understand your notes however is not. Still though I seldom write by hand I can print 90-100 words a minute; and I can read it, even if no one else can. 😉

              • I wonder whether, as a child, some teacher looked at your 3rd grade teacher and asserted: she’s going to be a primary school teacher, and all primary school teachers are crap at logic.

                • Actually I suspect it was chemo, she was a teacher several of my uncles had as kids and she had a reputation for being mean, and hard, and once again had the same rep after I had her. But the year I had her she was getting chemo for cancer, and besides being gone half the time she was very laidback, nice, and generally let the kids run wild the year I had her.

    • Non curo. Si metrum non habet, non est poema.

      • That’s how I feel and why I don’t write poems in English. I don’t HEAR the meter. It’s different in Latin languages. If I need poetry I bug my husband.

        • That was kind of a snarky remark about how “tools don’t matter.” 🙂

          Yes, you can write short prose or free-form verse or whatever you want to call it in whatever style you like and no matter how unusual or unlikely there’s some author, somewhere, who can make it sit up and beg while people gather ’round and say, “Hey, that’s cool.”


          Sorry. Had one of my turns there.

  6. Free-range Oyster

    *Steps up on soapbox* Sarah, you’re completely right (of course) about the pedagogy being an obstacle to learning. I must once again recommend that anyone with any interest in learning or teaching read John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education. One of the truly terrifying things that I learned from him is that many of those obstacles are deliberate. That is not to say that the teachers intend to block their students from learning. Rather, administrators and “experts” decades and centuries ago (there have been several different intrusions) laid down rules and systems that impede learning. Because of inertia, Pournelle’s Iron Law, and occasionally sheer malice, those policies and methods are perpetuated today. Some of them were based on the low-caste Indian schools intended to keep the rabble stupid and complacent. Some of them – based on phrenology of all things – were deliberately intended to keep people from reading too much and thus literally drive themselves insane. This is progressivism.
    Your story the other day of Robert’s admission to the teacher that school was just a way for you to get work done has been a catalyst for my mind*. The Oyster Wife and I have been mulling and discussing the implications. Babysitting (poorly, granted) is all most schools and most teachers are good for anyway, so why not make use of them? Frankly, I think we can do more teaching in a couple of hours a day than the boys will learn in a modern school anyway. I want to put something better in their place, but while we lay our plans and marshal our forces we can apply guerrilla logistics and make use of our enemy’s resources for our benefit. *Steps off soapbox*

    * Also hilarious of course. I have been sharing the story with like-minded friends at every opportunity, always to peals of uproarious laughter and nods of approval.

    • The key attribute which any education ought inculcate is the ability to self-educate. Everything else is training, indoctrination. Until you have developed the ability to dig into a subject, research and evaluate the available information. you are not educated, regardless of the certificates hanging on your wall.

      • Amen! Amen!

        I homeschooled the kids. Long story – mainly due to me having extremely limited energy and not wanting to use that energy to get kids to the bus stop with a lunch, a uniform, and the teacher’s selection of homework.

        If they got one thing out of it beyond a solid science education, lots of reading and computer time, and an unfortunate habit of stopping once the main ideas were in hand, it is a huge capacity to figure things out for themselves from available materials – and the idea that this is how you learn.

        • Absolutely agree! Happy Dancing to see folks who understand the difference between teaching and educating!

          • T-shirt frequently seen at Home Schooling conventions: “Education is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket.”

            A basic response from Home Schoolers about scope and sequence is: We stay on a topic until it has been learned, then move on to the next.

            N.B. – Home School conventions are a great place to shop for books.

            • Marsh learned everything and more on about two hours a day. Well, he also spent an untold amount of time walking around and reading pulp sf. We filed that under “PE” and “English.” 🙂

              • When Daughtorial Unit was instructed [ordered, commanded, threatened with lectures so boring that watching paint dry would be livelier] to provide a list of “Stuff Read” during Home School period (halfway through Grade 6 until end of 12) we ended up having to pare the list seriously in order to preserve credibility. Project Guttenberg is a marvelous resource. What educators believe define the limits of what kids will learn on their own is criminal.

                Someday, if you think of it while in a book store or library, pull Louis L’Amours Education of a Wandering Man and look over his reading list for selected years.

                • I got called to the directive council (don’t ask) over my reading list in the 8th grade. They instructed me to recant. It was plainly impossible. No one could read all that, and besides, I was 13! For shame,lying like that. Half of those books probably didn’t exist. So I told them to call mom. From my side the conversation went something like this “It’s twenty pages, single spaced. It’s impossible.” pause while mom yells at them. “I see. Every day? Sometimes more? I see. Are you sure she was reading them?” Pause. “Re-reading, you say?” Pause. “BUT but… Thus Spake Zarathustra? Cybernetics isn’t hard? A third year Physics book?” Pause. “Oh. No, no, I understand. They were lying around and you can’t afford to buy her six books a day. No. I see. Yes, sorry to have bothered you.” I was sent back to the classroom. In my imagination the main goon then put his head on the desk and sobbed, Asterix style “Compulsive readers, mothers, cybernetics… I am tired, tired, tired.”

              • I’m pretty sure I only paid attention in junior high and high school about two hours a day; the rest of the time I was reading. The teachers kinda wrestled with my being a bad example, but they all eventually gave in, since my grades were good.

                (Mind you, this was Very Bad Preparation for sitting through college classes. But it was a fairly efficient way to learn, albeit all the multitasking (keeping a weather ear out for important stuff) probably wasn’t efficient.)

                • Stryder Barlow

                  I was much the same, except for my entire k-12 education; I had my desk propped open and a book open; annoyed the teachers that I consistently passed my classes; usually by Aceing the exams; but when I started University I started having problems, until a boyfriend took me under his wing and taught me how to ‘study’ the way most people did.

                  • This is the basic premise for defining “profoundly gifted” as a handicap and requiring special instruction. Such kids all too commonly flame-out for having not properly learned academic skills.

                    • I was picked for those “gifted” classes back in grade school, but they had done away with them by the time I went to jr high and high school. I was profoundly bored with regular classes and, as such, never learned how to properly take notes, prepare for exams, or study in general. As a result, I “flamed out” in college, where it was far more expensive.

                    • I flamed out too. But, the Navy taught me how to take proper notes and actually had classes that were at my speed. Accelerated Electronics 😉

                    • I compounded the flaming out by doing again when I went BACK to college after the Air Force (early 20’s) mostly due to…well, most of it’s not suitable in polite company (RES excluded from the set of all things suitable). It wasn’t until I worked for years and then went back in my thirties that I got it figured out. That might have something akin to why I waited until my forties to start writing. I’m sure maturity has something to do with it.

                    • Maturity led you to writing? Uh.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      (shudders) Bad memories. After flaming out in college for a variety of reasons, most of them because I had little school ethic after i found out that there were people in the world I could be real friends with, I tried going to a different school. A Trade School, specializing in Electronics and computers.

                      In my first Electronics class, we spent 16 weeks going over the material we had covered in 2 weeks in my college Physics class. And the first math class was Algebra. No picking your courses, this is the curriculum. I flamed out, again, in a year, because i quit going to class, because I was so bored.

                    • I was a TERRIBLE student in middle and high school. I would read the textbooks in the first week or two, and the rest of the year they gathered dust in my locker. I seldom completed homework assignments – there were too many real-world experiences out there, longing for my presence. My grades were all B or C, with an occasional A. The only two times I got an F was deliberate on my part, because a teacher would assign a really STUPID task, and I rebelled. I was also a compulsive reader – so compulsive that I used to read the encyclopedias my parents bought to “help me with my schooling” (it did, but not the way they intended). I would always pick up five or six books from the library every week. I’m probably the only person from Louisiana who has ever read a Mirriam-Webster dictionary for fun. It can be a very educational experience, and sometimes even fun. I’d say 90% of my education came from outside reading. I even managed to get no fewer than six credits from the Air Force Academy by examination because of my outside reading. As others have commented, poor study habits kept me from doing more, and I didn’t develop good habits until I went to college in the Canal Zone.

                    • Partly because no one teaches it to them. The problem is you need profoundly gifted to teach profoundly gifted. It’s not quantitative, it’s qualitative. So the solution is… boarding schools? Or since a psychologist told us kids are never more than one deviation above parents (not acquainted with mutation or recessives, poor woman) perhaps the parents should teach their gifted kids.

                      Actually that — because no matter if we’re limping behind we KNOW them — and the internet might work, combined.

                    • Grade level is probably the most important factor. That, and special training (or profound gifts) can make a teacher who can inspire and challenge what, in NC are termed Level III kids (not sure of the basis for that label, but to qualify kids routinely had to score in the top one half of the top 1%.) In third grade a teacher can compensate for being less gifted by being vastly more knowledgeable — much harder to do in ninth grade.

                      The issue, at root, requires understanding that kids in this category think quantitatively differently than other kids — that is why this trait is properly recognized as a learning disability: they are not capable of learning according to the normal paradigm. The facts that such kids are generally perceived as “gifted” rather than handicapped just exacerbates the problem, fostering envy and animosity amongst those whose kids don’t (quite) make the cut.

                      I used to work at finding similes and metaphors to illustrate the distinction: L-III kids are using Pentium processors while the typical kid is running on a 486 (tells you how long ago I fretted over sech things.) But I finally realized that, to understand the challenges and difficulties of such minds you had to be pretty close to them, either personally or intellectually.

                    • Scott – I went back to college using my GI bill when I was 38. I finished top of my class with nothing lower than an A in all subjects. So yea, I learned that study habits for smart people need to be taught or shown. I finally picked it up from how the Navy taught their smart people.

                    • I went into the Air Force to go PJ, found out at MEPS that I had a previously completely unknown color vision issue, and took the first thing they would give me that didn’t involve crap duty and that turned out to be logistics, which I’m still working in today as a civilian. My reasoning was that if I couldn’t shoot at people, I wanted to take it easy, get my college money, and then go learn something that would allow me to shoot at people. Supply squadrons are not bastions of “smart” people, so I didn’t learn how to learn there either, more’s the pity.

                    • To be honest though– When I went to college the second time, I was doing the same level of work in 7th grade. ummm 😉 Instead of rebelling, I would try to out-think my professors.

                    • When I went to college the first time, it was 1988 and I found it crushingly difficult, so I partied my ass right out of school. When I went back after the AF in 1994, it was less difficult, but I reasoned that was because I had switched from Electrical Engineering to Political Science. When I went back after radio, I was absolutely shocked how easy it was and not because of my maturity, learned skills, etc. The classes were designed to absolutely spoon-feed the students. It was a cakewalk.

  7. The thing about most writing is that to write clearly is to think clearly. A lot of people don’t.

    • Charlie, surely you don’t mean to suggest that there are vested interests in our society that don’t want citizens to think clearly???? Why, just think of the kind of political representatives that might produce!

    • Wayne Blackburn

      You said a mouthful, there.

      Wait, this is the Internet. “Typed a mouthful”? “Typed a handful”? Whatever. I agree completely.

    • No, worse, I think there are vested interesting that haven’t the veriest clue what it means to think clearly.

  8. When folks, a few decades back, worried that television was going to wipe out literacy, it is fair to say that they had, if not a well-supported argument, then at least a not-completely-insane one, based on the evidence sitting in front of them. It is indeed fortunate that the combination of television and English teachers didn’t manage to _entirely_ eradicate the habit of reading from Western civilization, despite what at times seems to have been so focused and determined an effort (especially on the part of the latter group) that I feel compelled to rule out stupidity and go ahead and attribute it to malice.

    But the internet? Really? Have these people SEEN the internet? One consumes internet content (still, even now, in the age of YouTube) _primarily by reading_! One contributes to it _almost entirely by writing_!

    On the internet, _everyone_ writes. In years and decades past, most people, even those who had a noteworthy appreciation for recreational reading, did not write very much, except for the occasional letter to a friend or document for business. I’d call it a renaissance, except that “rebirth” is probably the wrong term for something that’s _never_ happened at this scale before.

    • Most 19th century folks wrote tons and tons of letters, both from literary and surviving epistolary evidence. Thus the multiple postal pickups and deliveries per day in urban areas.

  9. Excellent comment, Charlie Martin. Excellent post, Miss Sarah. OK, confession, I am a retired university English teacher, so maybe my point of view is a bit tarnished on this topic. I also confess, I *loath* the American public school system and I advocate everyone either home school their kids, or send them to a private school so they aren’t taught a truck load of nonsense that mucks up their mushy, still developing brains. The progressive agenda of the left leaning public school system is designed to ‘dumb down’ students, hero worship athletics, and force compliance to the progressive agenda. Better yet, move abroad and let your kids experience school in other countries. I have lived in 11 countries, and it made me one of those annoying curious people who always want to know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of everything.

    One of the things that always bothered me when I taught English 101, or a literature class, was the complete lack of comprehension of the Freshmen students when it came to understanding and learning the basics of reading and writing. These were the top students in their high schools, they were supposed to be brilliant and ready for college. I spent more time doing remedial work with my 101 classes than anything else. Most couldn’t write a proper essay, let alone a term paper. (Hence, I helped to develop a reading/writing lab for them. Especially the math and science geeks who were brilliant, but couldn’t put words on paper or screen to save their souls) I digress. Sorry. So it isn’t that kids can’t or don’t want to learn, they can and do. It is the lack of educators to educate and encourage students to debate, take apart, study, and defend their POV on topics. They are, instead, taught regurgitative education. Learn the stuff for the government exam, throw it up on the exam, and forget it. Move on to the next meal of information. Don’t bother to digest or understand it.

    The solution? Read to your kids. Discuss history, politics, art, music, and introduce them to thinking. Make books something special. I told my grandson, recently, that books are magic, they can take you anywhere and teach you anything you want to know. So can the internet, but you have to learn to read to explore the magic there too. Not too long ago, I was reading my Kindle. My grandson asked me what I was doing, I said I was reading a good story. He asked if I would read to him. “Sure, I said, go get your Kindle.” It isn’t where we read, how we read, what we read, so much as we read, and so do our kids! Teach them the power of words, teach them to work and that the reward is what they learn. Oh, and get your kids out of public schools before they become indoctrinate and end up in the occupy movement of living on your couch because they are busy ‘finding themselves,’

    • Er, loathe.

      I always wanted to correct an English teacher 🙂

    • One of the things that always bothered me when I taught English 101, or a literature class, was the complete lack of comprehension of the Freshmen students when it came to understanding and learning the basics of reading and writing.

      When I taught undergrads at Duke I had the same experience. The bitching and moaning when I asked *engineering* students to have paragraphs and make subject and verb agree in number….

    • Kids can’t write essays because of the way schools teach them to write. The Daughtorial Unit was instructed in The Formula for her 4th Grade writing test:

      State intention to explain why [conclusion] is the right conclusion. State, in summary form, three arguments for reaching this conclusion. The first reason to believe [the conclusion] is [restate and expand on reason 1.] Repeat for reason 2. Repeat for reason 3. Conclude by restating three reasons in summary form.

      I take this opportunity to recognize the sterling work of many teachers who succeed despite the pedagogy. In the face of obstacles greater than our lunar explorers many teachers yet succeed in inspiring youngsters to love learning and pursue the life of the mind.

      • It is my opinion that it takes either a Saint or someone Insane to teach in modern American public schools. Especially grades 1-8! Since I am neither, and very anti unions, I will never teach in the US again.

      • Oooo, Assertion With Proof paper! I had to write one of those to graduate from (private) high school. I went in with a fever, stayed (along with one other person) the longest, and had the only paper that didn’t have to be re-done. *does a dance*

        The requirement was: outline, rough draft, final draft. (I messed up so many final drafts till I found the white-out, because it had to be double-spaced and I kept forgetting that…) I wrote the rough draft, then the final draft, then the outline. (The outline requirement was stupid — the first paragraph of an AWP is the outline!)

    • My blog got invaded by the top students of an 11th grade IB class. The English on display made me want to cry (and not because it was informal. I’m informal.) THE INABILITY TO THINK made me want to slit my throat. Kate or someone might be able to find that mess and send up a link. Anyway — it made me despair for the future. But I had my kids take private writing seminars over the net (well, the younger one) and both of them can write better than the average bear.

      • I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody could develope a business offering Online Writing Tutorials. Not, repeat, not writing for sale, just basic writing competently. Put up a few instructional videos as bait and sell lessons in blocks of three (instruction, review, revise.) Call it How To Write Good.

        • Perhaps Write Readable Prose! instead? The Write Stuff? Can You Read Me Now?

          I need a nap.

        • The Lukeion project (truly, they don’t pay me) has a course on writing college essays. It was EXCELLENT for the younger kid.

          • My eldest was apprehensive about the first required essay he turned in at UT. UT is well known as a Liberal Mecca, and he wrote about nuclear deterance, in positive terms. When the Prof singled him out to speak to . . . he was shocked to be congratulated and told he didn’t need to worry about following the hideously picky instructions on the writing assignments, since he was obviously well past needing any such guidence. I was so proud.

      • The blogvasion and stomping is here: I will admit to getting a tad… sarcastic. Stupidity annoys me.

      • Just think, Sarah — all those kids are now eligible to vote, and a good portion of them will probably graduate from College this year — and STILL won’t know how to write, to express themselves, or to think. 8^)

    • Yeah, it’s bad. It’s been that way since the mid-1960’s, and it’s getting progressively worse. I know personally that both the Army and the Air Force have remedial programs to teach recruits to read and write, and to do basic math. They have to, because our public “schools” don’t teach these subjects to the level necessary for basic functioning in our military services. My career field (imagery intelligence) requires people in the upper 10% in the ASVAB test, yet over half of the people that are selected for this field need some remedial knowledge that used to be taught by our schools.

      • In 1988 when I went to book camp, the people who ended up in remedial classes were Filipinos, who were second language types. Now it seems to be a lot more. I was also in a career field (Cryptology maintenance) that the was in the upper 10 percent of the ASVAB test. I worked with some really smart people (with little common sense I should add). Also it had very few women in the field because many of them couldn’t pass the electronics training.

  10. My friend, Amie Borst, just sent this to me. As writers, you all might recognize some of this. Hilarious.

  11. Larry Patterson

    I’m so glad the school libraries in high school and jr. high were not run by fuddy duddies. So we had Judith Merril’s anthologies, plenty of Heinlein and Asimov. Then our public library had a whole SF section. Nerdy teenage bliss.

    • Heh. My high school library had an enormous military history section because of the JROTC (Navy). Apparently the instructors had donated their books over the years and the librarians just shrugged and added them to the shelves. I was a very happy geekling.

    • Our high-school library had a copy of The Number of the Beast…. The trade paper, with the black and white sketches at the beginning of each chapter. I’m fairly sure I was the only one who read it during my tenure in high school. I found that hilarious.

      (If you’re not familiar with the book, at least two of the sketches are of very attractive naked women.)

      We also had a copy of The Long Walk, which was a pretty darn explicit, not to mention depressing, thing to dump on a high-school kid.

    • Our school had a library sale. We didn’t have much money, but I had enough saved up to buy ONE book – Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers”. It’s still in my library. BTW, the school, which had very few copies of any one book, had FOUR copies of “Starship Troopers”, and you had to add your name to a waiting list to check them out. They sold two of them. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  12. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Regarding required reading in the public school curriculum, I first wanted a time machine for the purpose of murdering James Joyce.

    Regarding the teaching of grammar in the public schools, I learned most of my grammar from reading on my own. I didn’t really understand the formal side of grammar until taking Latin in college.

    I tend to put in the same category of fuddy duddy about changing language usages the complaints one hears about the shooter (FPS, Halo, Call of Duty, etc…) crowd using ‘gay’ to mean ‘stupid’ or ‘incompetent’. Yes, users in that context may have no information about sexual preference, but maybe they don’t need it, any more than 19th century usage needed information about sexual preference when they were talking about joy.

    It was the Bar that first got me writing for enjoyment. Going in by way of the newsreader ended up dropping the barriers to where I could manage them. Writing on the internet has greatly improved my ability at writing. (I have language processing issues, and probably would never have touched writing to any degree, if not for the computer. Even so, the capacity seems to shut itself off, seemingly at random, and is not fast enough to keep up with the youngsters.)

    My favorite tool for writing is notepad (the default windows text editor). Eventually, I plan on experimenting with other text editors.

  13. Do you really think Shakespeare ordered fish pie in iambic pentameter?

    I never thought of that before, but actually, I think he might have. Once or twice, to amuse himself. I have no evidence to base this on, but my gut tells me that Shakespeare was an Odd in his time.

    • Frankly I’m a little surprised at you guys today. Off your feed, are you? Not a single one of you has yet written how Shakespeare orders fish, or how Shakespeare asks the maid to darn his socks, or even how Shakespeare orders a tupenny upright around the corner.

      By now I expected several entrants in the category.

      • Sorry. I’ve been thinking of Kipling and “There are nine and sixty ways/ Of constructing tribal lays/ And every single one of them is right.”

        That’s what I get for living in the 19th Century this past week.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I can’t speak for anyone else, but I just figured out, late, that I can get the convention streamed on the convention youtube site, and haven’t been paying attention to much else since.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          All I can think of for Mr. Shakespeare to do goes:
          Chair: Elizabethan England, XY Votes.
          William Shakespeare: Some variation involving ‘I am proud’, ‘next President of the United States’, and ‘Mitt Romney’.
          Vice-Chair: Elizabethan England, (something) votes, Romney.
          a) My grasp of Shakespeare the writer is too poor for me to do anything but parody the delegates.
          b) My grasp of Shakespeare the man is too poor for me to have any idea of what his politics might be like. I do expect that he was culturally English, so that says a little, but very much not enough.
          c) I wrote out Victorian at first, and only caught the error at the very last minute.

          • I imagine Shakespeare depicting a character like [Politician Who Must Not Be Named] and it brings a smile. Now I shall spend a few moments quietly contemplating what Charles Dickens would do … after which I believe I will have a drink and imagine Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain writing them.

            I hate streaming video, but I do love me some CSPAN.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              I don’t care for video fanciness myself. I’m doing it on my secondary system, because I don’t want to handle the memory leaks and stuff on the main right now.

              I won’t get the coverage I want on the antenna, and I’m too cheap for cable.

              • There is not much value to cable for Odd folks like us — standard TV programming is, by my lights, about as entertaining as the book store section on Serbo-Croatian History (untrue — I bet i could find 3 or 4 books in that section that were worth skimming.) My appetite for the unlimited selection of “Reality TV” is lower than my appetite for hitting the “All-You-Can-Eat-Oatmeal” buffet.

                CSPAN all by itself is nearly worth the cost of cable, especially at times such as this, when I don’t need the likes of Chris Matthews telling me what I am seeing rather than letting me see it.

                • I love the free movies/TV series with Amazon prime. I’m on a mystery series jag, right now. Of course, by jag understand “watches one every couple of weeks” but hey…
                  And I have yet to find an history section I’m not interested in, unless written in another language. AND THEN I’ll consider studying it.

  14. “Since I wasn’t writing about mountains, and since writing means looking at the screen not the view, I thought she was out of her rocking mind. But I also knew it’s a common misconception of people who AREN’T writers and who view what I do as a sort of romantic affliction, like consumption in the 19th century.”

    • This may be less a comment on what people understand about writers and more an observation about what Realtors will say to move a property.

      • No, no, people also tell me stuff like “Shouldn’t you write by the seaside? That will break the block. That majestic landscape.” It’s… weird.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Well… they are both cliches about writers. “Writer goes off to his(her) cottage in the woods/by the seashore to get his mojo back”. I mean, c’mon! Why won’t you cooperate? (runs)

          • Oh, I’d love the cottage, but for the silence to write and the occasional walks. I just don’t want/need to live there.

            • I find writing by the seaside very productive. My favorite seaside spot having very limited connectivity . . . if only family would stop walking by and saying things like “Wow, the wind’s really come up, look at all those white caps!” or “Look! A doe and twin fawns!” and things like that that make me realize I’ve been oblivious to the gorgeous view for hours. Again.

              • actually I believe there’s some… thing to the presence of water. Taking showers cures the block, and a walk by the sea seems to also.

                • I dunno about water, or seaside or mountains or anything like that. But in general, I find that a CHANGE OF LOCALE, aka travel, tends to really set my creative juices flowing quite well. I will spend the day exploring some new place, and the evening after dinner, sometimes until quite late, writing hard. And even if it doesn’t go into the current story, dang if the locales to which I’ve traveled don’t seem to show up in later stories all the same.

                  Which makes me think…it’s about time I went someplace new, for a change…

                  • I’ve never had my writing muse inspired by landscape, my visual art muse goes gaga over such things, my writing muse, tends to draw its inspiration from people, so when I hit walls, a day out at the zoo or sitting in a food court at a mall or some equally ‘busy people doing things out of their norm’ setting; gets my creative writing voices speaking to me again.

        • I don’t doubt that — people have peculiar ideas about thinking (especially those who’ve never tried doing it.) But I am talking Realtors, here, the people who give us “Handyman Special” and other misdirecting phrases.

          A New Dictionary of Realtor-Speak
          How to decode real-estate listings.
          By Carol Kopp Sep 28, 2009 9:40 am
          If a real-estate listing describes a house as “lovingly maintained,” it means:

          a) Kindly overlook the worn shag carpeting
          b) The appliances are 30 years out of date
          c) Most of the walls are painted dusty rose

          Read more:

        • My most productive writing was done in a basement. For inspiration, I do best in a big city…any big city where people are walking around and going about their lives, and you overhear random bits of conversations around which you can build a whole backstory and frontstory. For actually getting words on the freakin’ page? Isolation from all sources of distraction.

          On the coast by the sea? Or overlooking a beautiful mountain range? I’d never get anything written in a place like that.

        • You know, I’m sure that if you gave someone the key to a mountain cabin as a retreat, it just MIGHT increase their output. Especially if they suffered from agoraphobia, the cabin was perched on the edge of a 1000-foot vertical cliff, and they’d have to look out the window in order to leave… I’d probably spend all my time watching the hummingbirds or the large raptors.

          • actually if someone gave me the keys to a seaside cabin, particularly in winter, I’d write more. This part of the plan for when I make tons of money from writing win the lottery (got to keep it real!) Get a seaside home in Oregon and go there for the winter. Take many walks in the rain = more words. I swear, it’s the water thing.

    • Writing modern fiction, regardless of what type, is about PEOPLE. Locale can change, action can change, but it’s how people react to their local, what’s going on around them, what THEY experience that people want to read. Studying how people interact with one another, watching how they handle situations, learning how they react to stress (or its release), are essential tools for a writer.

      That presents a problem for me, since I don’t get out much. Luckily, I’ve been able to observe people in the past from all over the Earth, and I still have a pretty good memory – except when the medications or the pain mess it up. Today, I get my interaction with people, and my observations, via the Internet – Facebook, Twitter, weblogs, even news sites that allow comments. I don’t necessarily use something from these sources directly, but they trigger memories which I do use.

  15. you said: “he seems to have got a job writing for a conservative website and decided that “conservative” means “fuddy duddy.””

    i believe you’ve just characterized the career of George Will.

    • Pish-tosh — when was the WaPo ever conservative? Give Will credit, he held out against the newsroom zeitgeist far better than David “Not the sharpest crease in the pants” Brooks managed. Probably because, as a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan he’s accustomed to cheering on hapless incompetent losers.

  16. I’m hurt and offended, Sarah. Some of us ARE “just aching with sensibility” and want the world to know it! It’s hard to be this in touch with my inner feelings.

    Now, you’ll have to excuse me – the wife is crying about something, but I don’t know what. Some people are just too damn sensitive! 😀

  17. I believe Sarah should check out this piece of art.

    “Madame, pray furnish me a tart of figs,
    Boiled up with wine and ground up fine,
    With pynes and Corinth raisins all in spice
    And so devised to fill pies twice.
    Be not too nice to put small salmon bits
    On top of it, with pynes and dates to fit.
    Add pastry lid and dress the top with milk
    Of almonds’ ilk, and saffron’s gold and silk.
    Or eels or whilks, if you’ve no salmon now.
    It’s good enow to keep me on my legs.”

    Yeah, I poked around and found a recipe for “Tart of fruits.”

    • Well, Master Shakespeare, what’ll you have?

      Fish pie.

      Fish pie. And? What more, my player?

      No more.

      No rhyme?

      No, mistress. Pie.

      No talk of Neptune’s net and gentle Ceres
      Making a child the cook neath pastry buries?

      No, mistress. Why?

      Master Marlowe thought my price to bend,
      And brought dear poems and his poorest friends.
      The man kneads me like dough, alas!
      I thought you also had some words to spend.

      No, my words ring upon the countertop,
      Won from the groundlings for your honest shop.

      God be thanked for a poet with hard coin!
      A pleasure doing business with you.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Dammit, I can’t afford to MAKE that, and I would SO like to take a couple to an SCA event coming up soon!

      It’s going in my bookmarks, though. I think I’ve been to that site before, but I don’t remember seeing that particular recipe.

  18. As for the older writing implements, at those times when I’m caught with a spare half an hour and no computer or electronic tablet or whatever handy, a pencil or pen, a spiral notebook or heck, a stack of misprinted-on-one-side scrap printer paper does just fine for letting the words flow, I’ve found. It may not flow quite so quickly that way as it does into my laptop, but flow it still does and I don’t complain when it does. (Except when my hand decides to cramp.) Then I can type it into the computer at my leisure and run an edit over it in the process. You’d be surprised at how much of my current novels were written in that fashion.

    • The local “Staples” store had a ‘going back to school’ sale, offering 10 spiral notebooks for $1. I had Jean pick up 20 for me. I have one by my nightstand, one by my computer, and one in the dining room, each with a pencil attached. NO MORE LOST IDEAS!