Category: Public Domain (page 1 of 1)

What a Tangled Tweet We Weave When First We Practice to Get Outraged

I ran across a «Twitter thread» that really ground my gears. So I wrote a response, but it’s too long for Twitter. It’s just much ado about nothing. But here is my response; since I haven’t written much in a long time here, this will give me some new content.



I am reading this bandwagon fallacy-laden thread through the lenses of being an English major, a former newspaper reporter/editor, a school public information director, a published author, and an elementary teacher with a master’s degree with 32 years of experience. Also, I get really tired of these old hasty generalizations, equivocation, and causal fallacies on social media. Also, we’re very much fellow-travelers in the political sense, so, especially if you’re humor-impaired, take the following as if it were a grain of salt on the tip of my tongue firmly in my cheek. I love everyone.

“U.S. schools are not doing a good job in that regard. And it’s been going on for a long time. I shouldn’t be hearing so many basic grammatical errors from politicians, teachers, newscasters, authors, and pundits or see so many in published materials.”

A “good job” according to whom? May I ask when exactly was the last time you were in an elementary school and sat through an entire school day with first graders? I ask because my mother makes this same argument frequently, yet has not been in an actual elementary school building since 1976. Her grandchildren were taught at home so she, therefore, has no experience either visiting a school or evaluating a public school education since 1976. This makes it difficult to accept this line of argument from either of you. I do indeed see many errors in oral and written discourse and when it occurs, it is irritating. However, I tend to hold the individual responsible for the errors rather than their elementary school teacher in 1989. Any errors I have made in these replies are my own and have multiple sources, including exhaustion from teaching during this epidemic, the speed of my written response, distraction, etc. They are not the fault of Clovis NM Public Schools, Lockwood Elementary School, and/or Mary Beth Wright, my fourth-grade teacher. I was afforded the instruction and supporting materials, which have sustained me for decades. My use or disuse or those is my responsibility, not theirs.

‘Stinginess toward investing in education.”

“Towards” is the preferred form. And, strictly speaking, you don’t “invest in education.” You invest in the systems created by adults to educate students. Systems and humans are very imperfect. Teachers like me know that more investment is needed, but how much? Where should it go? Who was stingy?

“Half of the country is nuts. How did this fucking happen???”

“Nuts” is slang and not used in persuasive discourse. Do you perhaps mean “insane” or the less hyperbolic “uneducated” or “misinformed”? “Fucking” is not used in polite, civil discourse. Its use on social media is a separate debate. But we are not discussing social media discourse here. We are discussing grammar and spelling in other forums. Finally, ending an interrogative sentence with three question marks is improper punctuation. One question mark will do.

“[Some sort of logo with “100” on it] rarely do people talk about the education system being off the rails for decades. My niece is a teacher. They no longer teach grammar or spelling because of spellcheckers, and I can only imagine what is happening in math.”

A sentence properly begins with a capital letter. Avoid dying metaphors such as “off the rails” which is, as Orwell pointed out, a “worn-out metaphor[s] which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” How can an educational system be like a derailing train? We still teach Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” in U.S. public schools. It’s unfortunate that your niece is a teacher, yet makes no effort to supplant the required curriculum with grammar and spelling lessons of her own. I do this every school day.

The fact that you can “only imagine what is happening in math,” is indicative that you haven’t been in a public school in decades. We are currently teaching pre-Algebraic concepts to kindergarteners; I taught fourth graders two weeks ago how to solve “x + 100 = 120”, an equation I was not taught to solve until ninth grade in the 1980s.

Our students are indeed taught grammar and spelling (one first/second grade class I had last week had a spelling test on Tuesday). Our students use notebooks and pencils and have no access to spellcheckers.

Your anecdote suggests your local school is deficient in curriculum and appears to be unable to ban the use of spellcheckers, but please don’t over-generalize all of this into an attack on the entire American education system.

“As if spelling and grammar checkers are correct 100% of the time…”

“As if” is trendy slang a few years out of date and diminishes the point you are trying to make. Your sentence should end with a period, not with an improperly spaced ellipsis. If you are using spelling and grammar checkers, perhaps your improper use of an ellipsis does indeed prove your point that you should not rely on them. I suggest either adding a punctuation checker or referring to Strunk and White or the AP Stylebook if you need a reference for proper use.

“Yeah, we know”

Persuasive discourse shuns slang words like “Yeah.” A sentence is properly ended with a period. And what are we supposed to know? If you are referring to the comment above implying students improperly rely on spell checkers, I know no such thing. During my experience in 32 years of education in five U.S. states, my colleagues and I have taught students to refrain from relying on spell checkers for grammar or Google for research. How did you come by your knowledge that you agree with teachers that spell checkers are unreliable?

“The grammar, for one thing, is amazing. Even professors say things like, “There’s two reasons.” I’ve heard Noam Chomsky make errors in basic grammar. In math, Chinese teens make us all look like morons.”

How can grammar be amazing? Oral discourse is often incorrect and filled with slang. If you have heard professors write sentences with improper subject-verb agreement, are you referring to professors in English or education departments? If so, then they should be more correct. If you are referring to professors of higher mathematics or physics, perhaps their first consideration is the content of their discipline, not proper subject-verb agreement. Perhaps these professors were instructors at Trump University, but without more information, your readers are not precisely informed. I would also be curious to read or hear Professor Chomsky’s use of “there’s two reasons.” Can you point me to those instances?

As for math, there are many levels and many sub-disciplines. What authoritative sources are you using to suggest “Chinese teens make us all look like morons”? I’m almost 57. What “Chinese teen” would make me “look like a moron” in elementary mathematics, which I teach? I will be the first to attest that a 16-year-old “Chinese teen” would make me look uneducated in calculus, a course I’ve never taken. As for “moron”, see Orwell’s comment above on worn-out metaphors. Also, “moron” formerly referred to a person of “mild mental retardation” and is now considered offensive.

“My husband’s cousin is an elementary school teacher in Park City. Every year, without fail, her Christmas card grammar is horrendous. She encloses an entire letter that makes me cringe.”

This is known as the “appeal to authority” logical fallacy. “Person (or people) P makes claim X. Therefore, X is true.” What is “Christmas card grammar”? That would be a discipline with which I am unfamiliar. In which school does your husband’s cousin teach? Perhaps that school should be alerted to her shocking offenses against the English language. Is she a first-grade teacher or a high school English teacher? It makes a difference. Perhaps you should circle her errors in red and return the card to her and suggest she avail herself of the education system’s multiple access points for remedial grammar and spelling.

“It took learning a foreign language for me to really learn grammar.”

You imply that you learned a foreign language that uses English grammar. Perhaps Professor Chomsky could enlighten me, but I am unaware of another language that uses English grammar and syntax. I am curious: Why did you not learn English grammar until you learned a foreign language? If you went to an American school for grades K-12 and did not learn English grammar, why? We do not know which language you learned, but how did learning Spanish or Japanese or Swahili, etc., teach you English grammar? This is intriguing.

“It’s unbelievable. The entire education system is a joke now. The last book I read, I found in excess of 400 errors. There were many more, but I stopped marking the ones that were the same error repeated numerous times.”

Would you mind specifically defining “joke” as it applies to “the entire education system”? Are you including charter schools, private schools, home schools, libraries, museums, educational programming on television, government departments, the state education boards, the local boards, the superintendents, custodians, maintenance, clerks? How are millions of people who dedicated their lives to educating young Americans “jokes”? I would ask you to remember that systems are made of imperfect people.

“The last book I read, I found in excess of 400 errrors.” The sentence is improperly formed and wordy. “I found over 400 errors in the last book I read” is the proper formation. I am curious: Do you often make notes of errors in books you read and enumerate them? As an elementary teacher, i would tell you that if you are not enjoying a text for any reason, you are justified in abandoning that text long before you did to find a more enjoyable one. I’m curious: “in excess of 400” means how many errors? 410? 1,526? I share Orwell’s irritation with the imprecise use of the English language. If you mean 425, write “425”, not “in excess of 420”. Also, you have two spaces between “were” and “the same”. One space between words and after periods is the currently proper usage.

“Years ago I wrote to complain about the numerous errors in the Web pages of Webster’s Dictionary. Their one-sentence response, claiming to be from the dictionary’s editorial department, had four errors. It’s like reporting chicken theft to the fox.”

“Years ago” needs a comma after it. Would you care to share the errors committed by Webster’s dictionary with us? It would add to the credibility of your discourse. Do you have any contrary information that the response was not from the editorial department? Would you care to share that response and point out the four errors? And again I refer you to Orwell’s worn-out metaphors quote above. The metaphor is actually “the fox guarding the henhouse,” so you have mangled it a bit, which at first confused me, the reader. Your discourse should be clear, concise, and free of worn-out, hackneyed language.

“LOL
Why does that not surprise me at all?”


Perhaps the social media milieu makes not only slang but also acronyms acceptable, but many of your readers will not know what “LOL” means. It also has varied meanings: “Laugh out loud” or “lots of laughs” or “laughing out loud” or “lots of love”. Here is how “LOL” is noted on the Urban Dictionary. This is not an “appeal to authority” on my part, since the Urban Dictionary is not an authority and does not claim to be one. I am pointing out how “LOL” is often seen by those engaging in social media discourse:

“Depending on the chatter, its definition may vary. The list of its meanings includes, but is not limited to:
“1) ‘I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to this conversation.’
“2) ‘I’m too lazy to read what you just wrote so I’m typing something useless in hopes that you’ll think I’m still paying attention.’
“3) ‘Your statement lacks even the vaguest trace of humor but I’ll pretend I’m amused.’
“4) ‘This is a pointless acronym I’m sticking in my sentence just because it’s become so engraved into my mind that when chatting, I MUST use the meaningless sentence-filler “lol”.'”
As for “Why does that not surprise me at all?” What exactly doesn’t surprise you and why not? Again, imprecise written language causes the reader to devalue your writing.

Urban Dictionary

And let’s not even discuss the final reply:

“Sounds like Webster’s needed better websters.”

I have to go to bed so I can get up in the morning and give first graders (virtually) their new weekly spelling list to learn. I don’t have time to deal with that one or waste any more time on this.


Sigh, double sigh, triple sigh.

Corporate Power

Is corporate power absolute yet? Or just overwhelming? Maybe … it’s just … mestastizing? There’s a fascinating documentary over at Deutsche Welle:

“The Wallonia region in Belgium triggered a Europe-wide crisis in the fall of 2016 by refusing to sign the CETA free trade agreement with Canada, as millions of EU citizens took to the streets to protest against the agreement. The CETA negotiations had turned the spotlight on the system of private arbitration courts. … Many states whose sovereignty is threatened are now finally waking up to the danger. But is it perhaps already too late to do anything about the seemingly over-mighty corporations?”

Deutsche Welle

Kit Marlowe is a Naughty Nellie and Probably a Witch

I just caught this from two years ago on The Guardian‘s website. Two years behind, that’s about my speed. But it is a fascinating document of Elizabethan paranoia and skulduggery.

“A controversial document in which the playwright Christopher Marlowe reportedly declared that Christ was gay, that the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people, and that “all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools” is to go on show online for the first time [in 2017. Like I said, I’m two years behind].

“The so-called ‘Baines note,’ a star item in the British Library’s Renaissance manuscript collection, offers tantalising evidence about the private life of Marlowe, one of the most scandalous and magnetic figures of the Elizabeth period.

‘Baines added a personal note, apparently aimed at watching government officials: ‘All men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped.’ A few days later, Marlowe was stabbed to death in Deptford, south London, in circumstances still regarded as suspicious.

The Guardian

Yeah, that’s the way to stop some member’s mouth: stab him to death. And lest we think this is anything new, remember, Italian police just found a body of a man who was killed by the Mafia and sealed up in concrete in the column of a building under construction. He had been there for awhile. Fun side note: The Mafia sometimes puts a rock in the mouths of stoolies after they’ve been offed.

But back to Elizabethan England: Christopher “Kit” Marlowe was quite a character. Just practically begged for offing.

“In the centuries since his violent death, Marlowe has been celebrated as gay icon whose works explored the realities of homosexual desire while it was still deeply dangerous to do so. Alongside the Baines note, the British Library has uploaded scans of the director Derek Jarman’s notebooks for his avant-garde film of Marlowe’s Edward II (1991). The play focuses on Edward’s love for his favourite male companion, Piers Gaveston; Jarman’s take on the story is nakedly political, featuring references to contemporary battles over gay rights.”

The Guardian

The Jarman film, which badly needs the Criterion treatment, is a rather confused mess, just like the decade in which it was made: the 1960s. But if someone would, while this manic mania for remakes in Hollywood goes on, shoot Edward II as written (mostly), you’d really have something. Mr. Marlowe is pretty incredible for doing what he did at the time he did it. I’m surprised he lasted to the ripe old age of 29. The Guardian has lots of writing about him and his works and the performances thereof; some good reads in those articles.

Here’s the Baines spy document text, with notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Because, in case, you know, you don’t know what Sodomy, papists and pimps are:

“Richard Baines to the Privy Council

“Shortly before Marlowe’s death, the informer Richard Baines made the following accusations against the playwright in a note to the Privy Council, the group of advisors who worked closely with Queen Elizabeth.

“[One Christopher Marly]

“A note containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly concerning his damnable judgment of religion, and scorn of God’s word:

“That the Indians, and many authors of antiquity, have assuredly written of above 16 thousand years agone, whereas Adam [Note: Adam; other copies have ‘Moses.’] is proved to have lived within six thousand years.

“He affirmeth that Moses was but a juggler, [Note: Juggler: cheater, deceiver.] and that one Hariot [Note: Hariot: Thomas Hariot, mathematician and author of A Brief and True Report of the Newfound Land of Virginia.] being Sir Walter Raleigh’s man can do more than he.

“That Moses made the Jews to travel 40 years in the wilderness (which journey might have been done in less than one year) ere they came to the promised land, to the intent that those who were privy to many of his subtleties might perish, and so an everlasting superstition reign in the hearts of the people.

“That the beginning of religion was only to keep men in awe.

“That it was an easy matter for Moses being brought up in all the arts of the Egyptians to abuse the Jews, being a rude and gross people.

“That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest. [Note: Dishonest: unchaste.]

“That he was the son of a carpenter, and that if the Jews among whom he was born did crucify him, they best knew him and whence he came.

“That Christ deserved better to die than Barabas, [Note: Barabas: Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40.] and that the Jews made a good choice, though Barabas were both a thief and a murderer.

“That if there be any God or any good religion, then it is in the Papists, [Note: Papists: Catholics.] because the service of God is performed with more ceremonies, as elevation of the mass, organs, singing men, shaven crowns, etc. That all Protestants are hypocritical asses.

“That if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable method, and that all the New Testament is filthily written.

“That the woman of Samaria [Note: Woman of Samaria: John 4.] and her sister were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly.

“That Saint John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ and leaned always in his bosom; that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma. [Note: Sinners of Sodoma: See Genesis 19. In Tudor England, the term ‘sodomy’ applied to a wide range of proscribed sexual practices, including homosexual activity.]

“That all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools.

“That all the apostles were fishermen and base fellows, neither of wit nor worth; that Paul [Note: Paul: cf. Epistle to Romans (King James Version) 13:1-2. ‘1. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Note, however, that Paul continues, “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’s sake.’ (verse 5).] only had wit, but he was a timorous fellow in bidding men to be subject to magistrates against his conscience.

“That he had as good a right to coin [Coin: mint money.] as the Queen of England, and that he was acquainted with one Poole, a prisoner in Newgate, who hath great skill in mixture of metals, and having learned some things of him, he meant through help of a cunning stamp-maker to coin French crowns, pistolets, and English shillings.

“That if Christ would have instituted the sacrament with more ceremonial reverence, it would have been in more admiration; that it would have been better much better being administered in a tobacco pipe.

“That the angel Gabriel was bawd [Bawd: Pimp.] to the Holy Ghost, because he brought the salutation to Mary.

“That one Richard Cholmley hath confessed that he was persuaded by Marlowe’s reasons to become an atheist.”

The British Library; Notes from The Norton Anthology of English Literature

Fascinating. And very highly effective. It’s a laundry list that ticks off every box in the “How to get yourself killed by Christians” guidebook. Baines must have had great fun with this. He got to offend everyone from Indians to the Holy Ghost, have another man killed for it, and probably pocketed some nice change for his trouble. Fabulous.