Category Archives: education

Grammer matter’s bc other country’s know are language better then us*

Here’s a little lesson in humility for the following:

*  Every North American who sees no value in learning our own language well, let alone anyone else’s

*  Every North American who makes fun of people who come from other countries and struggle to live in our country, learn our culture, and speak our language

Over the years, I have led numerous grammar “review” sessions at various colleges and universities where I’ve been a professor. These sessions cover the three major problem areas for most people:

1. Apostrophes
2. Pronouns
3. Irregular verbs, especially transitive and intransitive (the biggies are lie vs. lay)

Did you notice how I put the word review in quotation marks? That’s because, for many of my students, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard it.

Of course there are other trouble spots. These are the main ones that lots of people get wrong, including many “professional” writers. Again, note my use of quotation marks.

In all my years of review sessions with hundreds of students, most of whom have come through our public K-12 schools, I have met only one student who already knew this material thoroughly — knew it so well, in fact, that he was able to stay one step ahead for most of the review session.

One student.

One.

Want to know where he’s from?

Iran.

 

 

*PS:  If you caught all eight errors in my headline, then you are probably either: a) as frustrated as I am at the appalling state of language instruction in the United States; or b) foreign.

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A paragon of professionalism

Pen poised, wits sharp, I nod in profound comprehension as my brilliant colleague, a science professor, explains the groundbreaking research he and his students have been engaged in. This is all familiar territory to me, having spent the past several years of my career reporting on some of the innovative technologies under development at the Notre Dame nanotechnology facility.

Paragon …

One of the things I like to reassure my scientist sources about right up front is my comfort level and professionalism with the subject matter. I want them to know they’re in good hands. That their prized investigative research  will be handled with the utmost sensitivity and intelligence. That they can entrust to me their most complex and advanced concepts, knowing that I will distill them into simple, easy-to-understand explanations without altering a single subatomic particle of their sense and meaning. I may be a journalist, I may be an English professor, I may be the writing center director, but I also have a head for grasping  complex scientific subjects and translating them into everyday language for a variety of audiences. (You can check my LinkedIn profile. I think it says almost exactly that.)

So here I sit, nodding knowingly, laughing appreciatively at his brainy-scientist jokes, scribbling furiously to get down some of his better quotes.

Heck, I even smile sagely when our interview is interrupted by a call on his cell phone and he carries on a brief conversation that goes something like this on his end:  “Pronto. … Sì… venti minuti … ” and a few other phrases I forget now but the point is I understand every word.

When he hangs up, I say, “Parli italiano? (Do you speak Italian?)” See? I even speak the same second language he speaks.

Yep. That’s me. Ever the consummate professional, right down to my high-powered demeanor and my businesslike attire: chic red sheath dress accented with pearl jewelry, ivory peach-skin jacket and  elegant ivory pumps.

… or paradox?

And, for the pièce de résistance, a big glob of spinach left over from lunch, wedged prominently between my front teeth. So every time I smile at him, which I do engagingly and often to demonstrate that I am right there with him, he can’t help but see it.

And which I myself don’t discover until I happen to glance in the mirror, several hours afterward.

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Simple pleasures

“Sssshhh; we need to use our inside voices,” I caution my students primly as we leave the sunlit campus courtyard to head back inside the building.

This is met with a burst of raucous laughter from my twenty- and thirtysomething students before we settle into a tasteful silence as we enter the hallways. Our decorum lasts mere seconds before we break into fresh merriment. They’re a witty group, and no one is exempt from the gentle barbs  … including the professor. (Lest anyone think we are using the fine weather as an excuse to goof off, I will add that the students have been sharing with one another their rough drafts for a final project, and the fresh air and green space helped to sharpen their mental faculties. Their comments on their classmates’ work are detailed, respectful and astute.)

“This is the best English class I have ever had,” Kaytlyn chuckles. “I’ve been telling everyone they need to try to get you as their teacher.”

I live for simple pleasures like this. A day warm enough to hold class outside, laughing loudly enough to disturb everyone  in the classrooms inside. An afternoon at the farmer’s market, chatting with the rosy-cheeked, suspendered Amish (Mennonite?) vendor about the absence of GMOs in the food he gives his chickens. And he shows me their picture: fat, glossy and smug, strutting around among patches of bright emerald-green grass. A simple meal of fresh, local, organic food in season. And a tree so beautiful on my afternoon walk it takes my breath away.

Spring took forever to get here, but today made it worth the wait. Well worth it.

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Poem-A-Day for April 15

Today’s poetry challenge from Writer’s Digest is to write a poem about some sort of infestation. Looking over some of the selections from earlier this morning, I find the usual infestations of insects and love/obsessions, plus some rather inventive ideas about infestations. Mine isn’t so much inventive, perhaps, as it is timely. This is about an infestation that is all too common in our schools.

Sign of the times

 
It could be just a hoax.
 
Some kid wanting a day off from school,
Or some kid who’s angry and doesn’t know how else to say it,
Or maybe just some kid writing stuff on bathroom walls
For no reason.
Who knows?
But it was in my inbox from corporate HQ,
And all the local schools are on alert,
(Although many have dismissed it as a copycat prank)
And most important,
My daughter had heard it, and was concerned.
 
And I don’t want my town to be next in the headlines.
And certainly not my daughter.
There have been so many towns
In so many headlines,
And so many daughters,
And so much national grief.
 
So today she has a headache
Which I informed her yesterday she would wake up with this morning.
That’s your story, and you’re sticking to it, I said.
Be consistent, and tell everyone you have a headache, I said,
Even your best friends.
And I thought, how ironic,
That the best proof I have today of my parental excellence,
Is how thoroughly I’ve coached her on how she should lie
In order to be safe.
 
 
 
 

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Poem for April 10

For today’s prompt, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest challenges readers to write a suffering poem. “A person or animal in the poem could be suffering,” Brewer writes. Or, he adds, “The poem itself could be suffering.”

Here’s my response:

Homework assignment

 
She came to class today, hat pulled low over her ears.
 
He pulled her hair out in clumps, she says.
She should never have gone out with him, she says,
When she had a paper due about global food injustice.
She should have known better.
 
This is not the first time it’s happened.
It’s been a pattern since her earliest days;
Men coming in and out of her life like so many jackals stalking their prey,
Waiting for some small unguarded moment that will allow them
To seize the opportunity.
 
She doesn’t say it, perhaps doesn’t see it,
Perhaps is hoping against hope that someone else, finally, will see it.
There is another kind of injustice playing out here;
Something else she could write a paper on,
That is much more pressing than the human-rights abuses
Committed by faceless corporations against nameless multitudes.
 
This is a tyranny that is hers alone to explore,
And I will be asking her to walk across a field of broken glass
That lies deep within her own soul,
To embark on a treacherous journey
That no one ever volunteers to undertake,
And whose destination is far from certain.
 
Write me a paper, I tell her,
In which you tell me what you already know,
But no one has been willing to hear you say.
Tell me, I say,
Because so many have said everything is all your fault,
And you know and I know that it’s not,
Tell me all the reasons why not.
I’m listening. I believe you.
 
And in her eyes, terror and hope.
Her journey begins.
 
 

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