Friday, February 16, 2007

Your Skul Essays R Gr8!

There have been many recent stories (like this one in the New York Times) about teachers who are shocked to find that students use L33T to write essays in school. Everyone is shocked. I’ve found comments like these:
  • They’ll never get a job!

  • The dumbing down of civilization.

  • If they do this, the students must think it’s okay!

Now I experienced the same problem when I was in ninth grade in 1955. I know there was no instant messaging in those days, and EliteSpeak hadn’t been invented, but you’ll see what I mean.

Early in the fall we had an essay test in science class. (Yes! An essay test early in the year, in a SCIENCE course. But let’s not go there now.) When our teacher returned the essays, he had circled, in red, every place that any of us wrote “sed” instead of “but”, and “et” instead of “and.”

“Now I know,” he said, “that most of you come here straight from Latin class. And that's your first experience at trying to think in another language. But in this class, please write in English.”

We tried, and after that we did pretty well. We were embarrassed that we’d been using our Latin vocabulary without noticing. But that, I think, is the central issue. I’m sure that some of the students who write L33T can’t write any other way. But I suspect many of them, when they write, are concentrating on expressing every thought, not on how to write every letter. Kids these days spend a lot of time living in L33T, and it’s going to affect their motor skills.
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