Devolution of Culture?

Propositon:  I know there will always be exceptions, and I know that it is usually risky to generalize, but I believe  American culture is generally declining in quality.  I propose to cite examples here from time to time.  I am interested in other opinions on the subject.

My grandson, a pupil in the Joplin R-VIII school district,  just came home with a hand-lettered poster made by his kindergarten teacher.  (It was far too neatly printed to have been made by a kindergartner.)  It began, “Dear (kid’s first name), Your a great student of the week!”   It was signed, “Love your friends, ”  followed by his teacher’s name, Miss XXX.

Miss XXX does not appear to know the difference between a contraction (you’re) and a possessive (your)  As for the closing, ,  I suspect she is a little weak on punctuation.  I don’t know if it is an imperative direction about how he should treat his classmates or an indication of her opinion of their feelings for him.  The sentiment is fuzzy, but the purpose is fairly clear.  He is being praised for just being himself and not for any particular accomplishment.  That is not a life-lesson I want him to learn.  As a fan of NPR and Garrison Keeler’s Lake Woebegone tales I recognize the mindset.  At my grandson’s school, all the children are above average.  Sadly, the same is not true of the teachers.

I believe the teaching of basics in spelling and grammar have been in decline for a long time now, and that the trend has accelerated in the past few years with the explosion of e-mail and texting.  Our culture values speed over quality.  The downside of this trend should be obvious (but maybe it isn’t).  The formerly-revered rules of writing were meant to make communication efficient.  Further, the labor and expense previously required for putting pen to paper encouraged thought and organization before committing the ink.

What on earth can be so important that it must be texted while driving?

This is not my only exposure to the problem, of course.  We noticed the same problem when our sons attended a Joplin high school more than two decades ago, when one of their English teachers made grammatical errors in marking one of their papers.

I notice two other cultural irritants of late.  A local newscaster mispronounces “nuclear” as “nuk-u-lar” and her weatherman-colleague mispronounces arctic and February as  “artic” and “feb-u-wary” instead of the proper “ark-tick” and “feb-ru-ary”.  How are children to learn what is proper if their teachers and public personalities abuse the language?

Of course, we recently had a president who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, properly pronounce “nuclear” either.  I always wondered whether his staff were afraid to tell him.

Do these things matter?  Do they cause mistakes or misunderstandings, or am I being trivial?  Would the world be a better place with fewer but more-carefully chosen words?   Is culture the reason why, despite massive financial investment, American public education ranks with third-world countries, or is it just a symptom of some other problem?

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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