February 1st, 2012
10:10 AM ET

My View: Are electronic media making us less (or more) literate?

Courtesy Pomona College by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Kathleen Fitzpatrick is director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association.  She is the author of "Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy" and author of the blog Planned Obsolescence.

"U kno wat i mean?"

You might think that text messaging with a young person today would be enough to make an English professor scream - and particularly an English professor who now works for the Modern Language Association, that keeper of the rules of English style. The kids today can't write, you've surely heard it said, and new technologies are to blame.

I've got nearly 20 years of experience in the classroom, though, and I'm the director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association, and I don't agree with that popular wisdom for two reasons. First, the English language has never been a stable, fixed thing. English has been in a constant state of change over the course of centuries, and new communication technologies have always inspired playful inventiveness in their users.

And second, there isn't anything new in today's anxiety about the effects that new media forms will have on us. Plato reported in 360 B.C., for instance, that Socrates was concerned about the "forgetfulness" that the technology of writing would produce in the souls of those who learned it, and numerous scholars in the 15th and 16th centuries expressed worries about the changes that would result from the wide dissemination of texts made possible by print.

Writing certainly changed the ways that knowledge was shared, and print made possible its wide distribution, but no one today would say that writing or print made us less able to communicate effectively. Nonetheless, many people do assume today that technologies like text messaging and Facebook, which make communication so easy, are causing a deterioration in actual communication skills, especially among students.

Just as writing and print helped create changes in Western culture, new digital technologies are inevitably leading to new ways of communicating. But the popular claim that the rise of text messaging will lead to a decline in writing skills in the U.S. is probably exaggerated.

Part of the problem is that "writing" is still seen by many as "producing words on paper," just as "reading" may still be associated primarily with "books." Such equations run the risk of blinding us to what's actually happening in contemporary culture. Students today may read fewer printed books, but that doesn't mean "no one reads anymore." In fact, there are many more opportunities for reading today than there have ever been, more platforms and devices and formats and spaces in which we are all constantly engaged in the process of consuming and interpreting text.

Rather than producing a decline in writing (and in writing abilities), the spread of digital platforms and mobile devices has led to an explosion in opportunities for writing. These are the new opportunities that we're exploring at the Modern Language Association, as professors and students alike use these platforms for communicating with one another. Students today can publish blogs, exchange ideas with their friends using social networking systems and produce and distribute their own audio and video recordings, and they can respond to the things that their friends publish as well.

The challenge for all of us - students, parents and educators alike - is to understand that these modes of online writing with which so many people engage today are writing. Rather than dismissing these digital exchanges as silly or superficial, we should put them to work for us. It might turn out that these new forms provide important benefits for learning today. For instance, having students write blog posts instead of traditional research papers might raise the stakes of writing as a form of communication by providing students with an audience beyond the instructor. When more people can read and respond to a piece of writing, the writing takes on that much more importance.

The question of audience is paramount. Writing online can allow students to engage with many different audiences, leading to an understanding that the appropriateness of various modes of communication has as much to do with the audience that writing seeks to reach as it does with "correctness" in any narrow sense. The kinds of abbreviations and slang and, shall we say, creative spelling used in text-messaging with one's friends don't belong in formal presentations of research. This is not because those inventions are wrong, however, but because they're not taking audience into account.

Just as the English language has never been static, it has also never been singular: We all speak multiple “Englishes,” depending on the audience. The trick is to find ways to inspire today's students to put those multiple Englishes to work so that they can become as fluent as possible in the many modes of communication available today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kathleen Fitzpatrick.

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Filed under: At Home • Issues • Technology • Voices
soundoff (326 Responses)
  1. Josie Behnke

    Actually it all depends on what I am personally doing. Writing an e-mail to a good friend of mine is very different then an e-mail I would write to my parents. Writing a paper for my college professor is different then me writing a short story on my own. Many of us do know proper english and will use it in the right context, other then that...let me stick with my short-hand and laid back way of speaking when I want to! Funny we were just talking about how there are different writing styles and ways to get messages across in my college english class and we all admitted there would be no way unless it was required that any of us would write the way we text or talk on fb. It's just common sense. The thing I don't like, the fact that handwritting has taken a back burner, and it's harder and harder to read, or running into 18 and 19 year olds who can't write in cursive.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Brauc

      I find it humorous that immediately after referencing people who know how to use proper english, you immediately demonstrate that you are not one of them by using "then" where you should have used than.

      February 4, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
      • S

        I doubt he was planning on publishing this in a scholarly journal or in any other formal setting. In case you haven't noticed, this is a CNN comment board.....considering the level of importance in achieving perfect accuracy in spelling and grammar, I think it's not such a big deal. But then I also don't normally walk around with a stick up my a**

        February 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  2. Ethan Becker

    Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for writing this article. I agree that digital exchanges can create opportunities to teach kids the art of communication. In fact, I’ve found that today’s graduates have acquired such a level of comfort with texting and emailing as their primary form of communication that their oral communication skills have taken a back seat. Many of my clients have asked me to help their sons or daughters with college interviews or job interviews, and although I find the kids confident, I’m also sensing their very real fear of verbal communication (not to mention public speaking). However, the avoidance of learning strong oral communication skills comes at a price. That new college grad most likely will get that dream job only when he or she masters the art of oral communication. Of course, you could argue that Baby Boomer bosses should feel more comfortable communicating with job applicants and employees by texting and emailing. The flaw in that thinking is, for now, it’s Baby Boomers who are doing the hiring. That means recent grads must adapt their communication style to match their potential employers’ expectations. If they fail to do so, they will be left behind.

    Ethan F. Becker
    President & Senior Coaching Partner
    THE SPEECH IMPROVEMENT COMPANY, INC.
    http://speechimprovement.com/ethan

    February 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  3. 3rd Tyrant

    Right on, other than missing the point and creating a false analogy. Throwing up your hands because English changes is ridiculous descriptivist cowering, and though Socrates might have had the same anxiety about writing that sensible people do about texting, there really is no empirical data showing that writing caused a diminution of memory, whereas there is data showing that the way we interact online or electronically makes us "stupider."

    February 2, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  4. Sheryl

    @Jeremy....Well, I guess I will just laugh all the way through to my retirement day and continue to enjoy the positive feedback I get from university professors, employers, parents, and students. Apparently, literary analysis and criticism is NOT a dying art, a testiment to the number of students at my school who pass the Advanced Placement test with a 3 or higher and are employable after they graduate from college! The truth is that GOOD students want to be prepared for univeristy. They even want to obtain doctorate degrees and oh wait! Some of my former students are ENGLISH majors! God, I am a terrible teacher. Damn those school marms!

    February 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  5. Aaron

    Nice piece of writing, but a zillion others beat you to the punch. You get a 0 for creativity.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  6. Kelly

    In defense of young people everywhere, I have to say that this phenomenon is not exclusive to kids in school. It applies greatly to adults as well. I work at a reemployment facility and am amazed at how often grown adults have absolutely no idea how to put together a complete sentence on a resume. As a whole, it seems as though people equate the internet with informality. They think that since an application is online, they can skip steps, not fill in important information, abbreviate words, and forget entirely that on the other end of the computer is a person in a suit looking to hire a professional. It gets to the point where they will be filling out an application and will look at me earnestly and ask if they should capitalize their name. I just look back at them and think to myself, 'It's your name! Lesson number one on the first day of Kindergarten is that we always capitialize names!' And never is this rule more important than on your resume!

    February 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Sheryl

      Well said! Thank you.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Jeremy

    Yes finally! I've said this, and heard this from professors, for years. The only ones really lamenting and doom-saying about "proper" English and the death of communications are grade school and high school level teachers who probably don't know nearly as much about grammar and linguistics as they like to think they do. There's a reason why the correlation between a declining GPA in college and switching your major to Education is high.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  8. SJ

    I stopped reading at "I've got..."

    February 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Sheryl

      Ha Ha!!!! I agree. She is an embarrassment to the profession. I TRY to always adhere to proper standards of syntax, grammar, and vocabulary and I make my high school students revise and revise and revise. "I've got" just SOUNDS bad!

      February 2, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
      • LaurieD

        Sheryl –

        I read two messages you wrote and found grammatical errors in each. So your credibility is questionable. Keet TRYing.

        February 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Sheryl you kind of prove the flaw of the old "school marm" viewpoint. You see only style and don't pay any attention to content; I'm sure hundreds of authors you use in your own classroom would take offense to that literary critique style. Language evolves and changes; "proper" English is simply what a bunch of snooty aristocrats a century or so ago decided would set them apart from the "rabble." Like it or not, rules of style and accepted usage have changed. Let's be completely honest here; how often in life or even in literature do people use the proper terms like "I haven't any"?

      February 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
      • Sheryl

        Actually, I DO say "I haven't any". I take offense however to your characterization of me as one who does not explore content. Indeed I DO. My students do not simply read words on a page and regurgitate facts in a typewritten essay! They research and study (with my guidance) the socio-political, gender, and historical dynamics that underly a story like Shakepeare's "Macbeth" or Tomas Rivera's "and the earth did not devour him......" Moreover, even the plays I teach explore the sociological and historical references and guess what? MY STUDENTS ENJOY IT!

        February 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
      • Jeremy

        Right and my point was only people like English teachers still talk in that manner. If you want to talk in the fashion of a 19th century aristocrat that's fine, I don't really care. What we take umbrage to, is how teachers demean the evolution of English and haven't caught up to technology and society.

        February 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  9. Kim

    The key word often used in this article is "opportunity". In having the opportunity to do something, it should not be assumed that those opportunities will be acted on, reaping the desired improvement levels. I believe the poor results in todays reading comprehension skills will verify this overall lack of interest in personal improvement.

    February 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I agree, its not the technology, its the motivation and intent.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  10. Flora

    As a lover of literature (and admitted grammer-nazi), it makes my skin crawl when I see someone with really horrible spelling. I was once a student aide in HS (basically, unpaid teacher's assistant) & one of my jobs was to grade the student's papers – with God as my witness, one of the papers I graded had a student write the word "guitar" as "goodtar". Thank God he wasn't in the room at the time, or else I would've rolled up that test & smacked him upside the head with it.

    But on the converse side, I read an interesting article in this month's "Wired" magazine about how the English language was never really built for standarized spelling to begin with, so saying that the English language is somehow devolving is nonesense. I recommend the article for anyone who cares, but I'll stick with being a grammer-nazi – I think we'd really be selling ourselves short if we let ourselves be the first to let our language slip BACK into it's primitive phase.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • JeramieH

      Improper use of &
      Incorrect form of "it's" in the last sentence

      February 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
      • Annie

        Let's also add:
        students'
        "goodtar."
        Wired should be underlined
        nonsense

        February 6, 2012 at 4:12 am |
  11. fidgetwidget

    If some of the papers and manuscripts I have been hired to edit are any indication, the rules of English grammar are dead and buried, and spelling skills are nonexistent.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      And how is this different from 30 years ago? My mom was a high school English teacher and I used to help her grade atrocious papers.
      My 13 yo daughter, lives on the computer, texts all the time and reads books on a Kindle, yet her writing consistently earns top grades and frequently win awards. She also enjoys writing fan fiction on line.
      Reading and writing skills are going to be automatically hurt or helped by use of such devices. Its just a matter of how they are used.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      reading and writing skills are NOT going to be hurt or helped. (Unlike blog typing which consistently stinks!)

      February 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Annie

      In my opinion, the meaning of a grade or a graduation rate is also meaningless. Standards are exceedlingly low, and pressure to have a high graduation rate results in all kinds of moral failure, as far as I'm concerned.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  12. Burbank

    I still think children should be taught basic math and writing (or printing) skills without the help of gadgets. What will they do if they don't have any gadgets handy?

    It still boggles my mind that some kids can't even count change and are clueless without a machine to tell them how much. For instance: With 73 cents out of a dollar, change would be 27 cents. You don't even need to subtract, just count upwards from 73. It's certainly not rocket science.

    We have a couple of generations out there that are helpless without devices! I have even encountered middle school aged children from underpriveledged neighborhoods that can't even spell/write their own names. Very scary indeed!

    February 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Will45

      I've encountered quite a few young adults who can't even tell you what time it is if the clock has two hands!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      And I actually met a grown adult that could not properly use a sun dial! Totally dependent on mechanical technology to thell the time of day. Insane!

      February 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  13. Truth

    True dat

    February 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  14. Larry "O"

    Going to School in the 60's and 70's I will tell you as soon as I learned to type I quit writing. All my homework, projects, etc. were done on a good old manuel typewriter. My daughter is a Freshman in High school and has wonderful handwriting but when it comes to a large essay she is typing away and that is called time management.

    February 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Sheryl

      I don't think anyone is contending that 'typing' is a necessary skill; even phones have keyboards. It is the 'art' of writing organized, cohesive essays, blogs, articles, etc. that we want to keep. By the standards of some responders, it seems that perhaps anything old or 'archaic' should be ignored or eliminated. Shall I stop teaching Shakespeare? Shall I stop using Fitzgerald as a model of beautiful prose? I think not. My students have their cellphones, iPhones, iPads, and Blackberries and that is fine. These are essential tools for communicating, but to throw out the standards of proper English is not right. If I adhere to this notion proffered in the article, then perhaps I should quit teaching altogether. perhaps our state standards for the High School Education Exam should leave out the writing portion. Perhaps they should be given keypads and simply blog out what comes to their minds in any way that can be deciphered. Scary.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
      • Maya

        Typing IS a necessary skill if one has to large amounts of writing, just as a practical matter. If a business professional takes twice as long as his colleague to submit a ten page report because his colleague knows how to type and he does not, who do you think is going to get a promotion?

        February 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  15. Burbank

    With Twitter limiting communication to just 140 characters, I predict the return of heiroglyphics!

    February 2, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  16. cpmackin87

    Can you explain why discontinuing the use of cursive writing would be detrimental to our society or language? And if you say "because we have always taught it", that is simply the logical fallacy of appealing to tradition.
    While it is similar to an art form such as calligraphy, it is not at all necessary for effective communication. It was created for the purpose of being able to write faster...since the invention of the keyboard, however, we can now type faster than we could ever legibly write. So why do we need cursive?

    February 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Will45

      My daughter specializes in special education....she tells me that some dyslexic kids recognize letter combinations more readily, and actually learn to read, using cursive.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Jay

      There have been studies (and you would have to get university text books or science articles to read about it) showing that cursive writing helps with child brain development. It strengthens a child's eye-hand coordination and makes automaticity in writing easier, which has the potential of making better writers. I wish I could find an online article on the subject but I wasn't able to. My mother who is getting her masters in education had to do a project on it for a class; part of the requirement was posting the power point to youtube. Later today I will try to reply again with the text book that my mom used.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDf4-DJGXHg
      She got an A on it if you're worried about validity.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
      • Jay

        The video is on more than just cursive.

        February 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Burbank

      Umm, errrrr, in case the power goes out??? Just sayin....

      February 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
      • vince86

        You can' t write in the dark either.

        February 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  17. Will45

    Writing is a twofold endeavor......the first is to arrange your words in such a way as to convey your thoughts masterfully and compellingly. The second is to be able to share them not just by typing them into cyberspace, but knowing how to write them down using 'archaic' instruments such as a pen or a pencil. Why, some may ask? ..Because people should know how to communicate with something other than vulnerable electronic devices subject to blackouts, breakdowns and malicious surveillance..

    February 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  18. RJofDC

    And I also hear that some schools will stop teaching Cursive writing??? This is just ridiculous.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • JeramieH

      No kidding. I hear they're not teaching little girls how to darn socks any more either.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
      • CoryJ

        What amazes me is that my kid is not being taught basic math as in multiplying and dividing. She is a junior in high school and has decent grades...about a B average. I was helping her with homework and told her to multiply two numbers and she could not do it without a calculator. She said no one taught her multiplication using paper...teachers always said to use a calculator! Electronic gadgets are great and make some work so much easier but they are only a tool for getting what you need/want done. If that tool breaks or is unavailable, you better have a way of figuring out your problem using the tool that is always available, your brain!

        February 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Writes

      I use to teach English to inner-city students. I would rather they knew how to engage a reader with word choice, compelling narrative, and proper sentence flow than an outdated writing style any day. I personally cannot stand reading papers in cursive, and find cursive writing much harder to read.

      February 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
      • Annie

        used

        February 6, 2012 at 4:07 am |
    • Jesus

      They've stopped teaching creationism too? What's up with that?

      February 2, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  19. Anne

    English itself descended from the language of the "barbarian" tribes of Europe. Anyone who laments its decline certainly has a high opinion of what the Greeks and Romans considered gibberish.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  20. I don't know about you...

    I've noticed my daughter's penmanship is terrible. I will say though when she was 10, she already was typing at a level far above myself when I was in high school. Change is inevitable.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Ken

      Right, but the best ideas of the 20th century were envisioned, drawn and written on the back of napkins. Everything from spacecraft to computers. There is something free-ing about paper and pencil. There are no bounds.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  21. Sheryl

    I too have been an English teacher for about 20 years, however, I take exception to her arguments. First, it is not that the language is changing as it has for centuries. Rather, it is that we live in a fast-paced society in which we demand instant gratification, short cuts, and easiest possible way to communicate and get our needs met. That is not evolutionary progress; that is laziness and impatience. My students and many other teachers I know use blogs in ADDITION to writing research papers. We require that our students use proper English EVEN in their communications online. Remember when cash registers evolved from manual to computerized? Remember when we actually KNEW how to count back change? We all knew even then that these new high tech cash registers were going to result in generations of people who RELY on the machine to tell them how much change to return. Ask someone to COUNT it back to you and note the look of confusion on the face of the clerk. Same principle applies now to poor, chopped, fragmented syntax in online and even written communications.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Creative Genius

      I wish I could "Like" your response on here.🙂

      February 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Will45

      I wish there were more teachers like you. Thank you for your comment.

      February 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  22. MJSouth

    Goodness, CNN actually presented an intelligent piece of thought and writing....................

    February 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  23. Ben

    Ahh... don't be too hard on the author. If you copy and paste it into Word it only shows one little fragment. According to Microsoft the article is fine, lol

    February 2, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  24. becca

    we teach students to write formal and informal techniques so they have writing abilities that vary, tailor to the audience, persuade, inform, or entertain. the key is motivating students to write so they can develop all of these traits in their writing craft. if they start with informal electronic slang and spelling, they can continue writing to develop writing abilities in all tones like formal research papers, essays, stories etc. blogs can motivate students to write in all modes. technology should not replace other forms of writing, it should enhance writing and provide additional methods for writing as a tool so students are well-rounded and can produce all types of writing, formal and informal.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Helper

      Nicely said, but we could also "practice what we preach" by using correct capitalization. 🙂
      i tOO am gUiltY oF tHis.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  25. MannyG

    Nothing wrong with ignoring grammar when texting friends. The problem is not KNOWING how to write well even when we want to.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • monah

      Agreed, except that constant texting like that tends to make people forget the correct way to spell and use grammar. This is particularly true for the younger generation who didn't spend half their lives writing correctly before the advent of all this technology. I'm 54 and I know I can't spell as well as I used to because my computer does it for me!

      February 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
      • Writes

        Spelling was one of my worst subjects as a student, and was one of my worries when I was working on my English degree. Because Microsoft Word kept catching my spelling mistakes during all my late nights writing short stories and exhaustive essays, my spelling actually improved greatly! I thank Word for teaching me how to spell🙂

        February 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
      • James

        Please cite your reference to support that constantly texting incorrectly lessens one's understanding of proper grammar...

        February 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  26. SeanNJ

    I don't think people are any less literate than they were before. You simply have greater access to a platform that allows the barely literate people to demonstrate it.

    February 2, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Brent S

      EXACTLY! More people that never could or would not write well at ALL now have their own platforms...

      February 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  27. Mike Litoris

    I agree. For someone critiquing literacy, writing for a professional news agency and proclaiming to have 20 years as an educator, One would think she would be able to write an article without three run-on sentences within the first two paragraphs.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • D Tomasino

      There isn't a single run-on or even fused sentence in the article. Just because a sentence is long doesn't mean that it's a run-on.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Lilburn Lady

      In my humble opinion, it is not only the digital age which has set us back, it is the "dumbing down" of our schools that is most to blame. The fact that a writer on a national news site, who purports to be an English professor uses a sentence which starts with the word "And" and a sentence which makes absolutely no sense at all i.e., ("The challenge for all of us – students, parents and educators alike – is to understand that these modes of online writing with which so many people engage today are writing.") is proof positive that we have slipped back.

      The average teenager today has less than half of the vocabulary of the average teenager during the 1950's. The idea that journaling or blogging is just as valuable as writing research papers, is bunk. Teachers and parents today have gotten lazy and have given up the responsibility to push children to take on difficult subject matter such as Shakespeare. Case in point, my stepdaughter's English teacher assigned them to watch a movie on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet rather than having them actually read it. They wrote a report on a movie IN ENGLISH CLASS! Is it any wonder, our kids are less literate than kids from the 1950's?

      February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
      • D Tomasino

        Please don't generalize about teachers and what they do and don't do. It's insulting.
        And it's perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with "and." It's also perfectly acceptable, although I don't suggest doing it in every sentence, to interrupt a sentence with information. Good writers use a variety of sentence structures.

        February 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • layne a

        while yes, shakespeare is meant to be seen, the movie would nonetheless be an interpretation and likely shortened considerably. Plus the original audience would have been better able to understand the performance, living in a world that was better acquainted with the references etc. Shakespeare does probably need a text with explanation of what is being referred to. I always found that the notes enriched the interpretation greatly.

        February 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Sharon Yeates

      Dear Mr. Litoris,

      You improperly used "one" in your comment.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
      • dave

        hey sharon...say mike's name fast and you'll quickly realize it "ain't" his real name......

        February 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Damo

      "Case in point, my stepdaughter's English teacher assigned them to watch a movie on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet rather than having them actually read it."

      Shakespeare wrote PLAYS, you villainous, abominable misleader of youth. They're MEANT to be watched and heard, not read.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
      • JeramieH

        I've never once thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right. +1

        February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
      • Lilburn Lady

        To Damo: Shakespeare's plays were meant to be enjoyed as visual entertainment, however, if they are being taught as subject matter to be studied in an English class, one would assume that it is the content, language and construction of the story that is being studied, not the dramatic production. My point is that because Shakespeare is difficult to read, teachers are relying on television and movies to teach his plays. When I was in high school, there were movies available to watch, but our English teacher made us read the play, discuss it and act it out in class, not sit in front of an idiot box, slack-jawed and passive. Shakespeare was a master with words. He wrote plays and sonnets, each of which contains priceless jewels of language. Language and writing are not learned by watching television. Language and writing are learned by reading great literature and being taught to see the meaning and beauty that lies within the words.

        February 2, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  28. stephany

    Definitely less literate. Have you read an article on the internet lately, of even better, the comments. I seriously doubt most of these people made it through elementary school.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  29. gary

    between keyboards and having to prep kids for state tests, penmanship isn't taught in school anymore. Elem kids can scribble how ever they wish. Spelling is not counted on state tests. USA schools have been dumbed down to teach to the minimum standards on NCLB tests. Gifted Ed has been gutted. Schools' only concern is to get kids to the lowered bar of minimum standards. USA is Toast.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  30. Bart Hawkins San Antonio TX

    Given the number (and indeed, the type) of grammatical errors within this article itself, the author is in no way competent to comment on the issue of "literacy," amongst teens or anyone else.

    I am appalled that this lady is even employed as a "writer," much less as an instructor.

    She IS the problem, or at least one version of it.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • ttpilot

      Perhaps you'd care to point out those errors? I didn't notice anything, and I are very articulate.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
      • D Tomasino

        My thoughts exactly. . . .

        February 2, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • McBain

      There wasn't anything glaring in the article to completely invalidate it. You are just being a grump.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:45 am |
      • Bart Hawkins San Antonio TX

        Really? "I've got nearly 20 years of experience in the classroom, though, and I'm the director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association, and I don't agree with that popular wisdom for two reasons...."

        THREE, count them, THREE, separate, individual grammatical errors within ONE sentence! Spot them, and you win the Kewpie doll.

        Grump I may be, but I don't write about topics I don't understand, as this "author," seems to do.

        She knows not of what she speaks.

        Common on the Internet, 'tis true, but distressing nonetheless.

        February 2, 2012 at 10:01 am |
      • JeramieH

        You do understand that grammar is both prescriptive AND descriptive, yes?

        February 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Lloyd Best

      Bart, you DID understand the article, did you not? Communication is about producing and consuming information. If you were able to extract what the article intended you to, then Ms. Kilpatrick succeeded in her intent regardless of her delivery.

      February 2, 2012 at 10:13 am |
      • Sharon Yeates

        Dear Mr. Hawkins,

        Before you continue your lecture on the mistakes of the author you should eliminate the fragmented sentence from your posted comment.

        February 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  31. Caiha

    I was going to read this article but there were too many words.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Mora

      ahahahahahahahaha. In case there are people out there that need a complete sentence to understand that meaning behind those letters: I found Caiha's comment to be very funny.

      February 2, 2012 at 9:57 am |
      • James

        Buahahahahaha, and in case you are still living in the 20th century, that means I found Mora's comment EXTREMELY funny. OMG...did I just use capitilization incorrectly. Oh dear, someone call the grammar police, I'm dumbing down society.

        February 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Burbank

      LOL!

      February 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
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