Sunday, September 30, 2012

It Really Do Matter

I don’t know what the full conversation was about, but two of my students were having a discussion (instead of doing their work, I’m sure), and one said, “God don’t care about that.” Well, I have a policy in my class that there are four grammar errors that I won’t allow my students to make, and that was one of them. For making the errors, my students are required to give a speech in front of their peers. I give them a study guide and twenty-four hours, and then the student must teach the class without the notes. He had to tell what he said, why it was wrong, and what would be right. So I interjected into the conversation and said, “Sure He do. God do care. And I care that you just doed wrong grammar, so you have to give a speech.”

Well, I don’t believe said student realized my own sarcastic grammar gaffes. He was more concerned about the speech, so he replied, “I ain’t doin’ no speech.” Now, I’m not a big fan of the word “ain’t,” but it ain’t one of my speech topics. However, double negatives are, so I thanked him for agreeing to do the speech. He looked at me as confusedly as an eighth grader with bad grammar could look, and he repeated, “I said I ain’t doin’ no speech.” I smiled and said, “That’s right. If you ain’t doing no speech, you clearly have agreed to do a speech—in your case, two of them.” Within forty-eight hours, both speeches had been completed without notes, and the king of the red pen (that would be me) had struck another victory for good grammar.

I’ve reached the conclusion that popular music has a huge impact on the grammar of our youth, and musicians have been whittling away at our culture’s collective resolve for years. One such example is a song that took both Ringo Starr and George Harrison to write. The chorus went something like this: “It don't come easy; you know it don't come easy. It don't come easy; you know it don't come easy.” Okay, it went exactly like that. The Beatles were songwriting geniuses. Bread followed that hit up with one of their own that said, “Time is on my side 'cause it don't matter to me.” Sheryl Crow got into the act with this classic phraseology:  “It don't hurt like it did. I can sing my song again….I don't think of you no more except for every day or two.” I’d comment if I wasn’t speechless. Now Verne Gosdin is in on all the fun grammar antics. How about the song “That Just about Does It, Don't It”? Yes, Verne, it do. But what them singers maybe doesn’t know are (yes, I made those errors on purpose) according to Alyssa Bonagura, “It don’t matter if it’s rainin’.  Nothin’ can phase me. I make my own sunshine.” And she makes up her own grammar too.

What are kids to do in the face of such a powerful example? Well, maybe they should listen to a business owner’s perspective and consider improving their grammar for their own good. In Harvard Business Review, Kyle Wiens, owner of iFixit and Dozuki, wrote “I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why.”  He said, “Grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn't make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can't tell the difference between their, there, and they're.” Hmmm…a voice of reason in a culture of grammar laziness. He said he actually gives applicants grammar tests because “grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing—like stocking shelves or labeling parts…[and] if it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use ‘it's,’ then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with.” Finally, he said, “Applicants who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other important things also aren't important…after all, sloppy is as sloppy does.”

So we as teachers and parents and guardians of our language should spread the word about the importance of using it correctly. AND WE AS WRITERS SHOULD BE EVEN MORE COGNIZANT OF OUR CRAFT. Words are our profession for Heaven’s sake, and we should carry on as professionals. It matters; it really do.