Shae O'Brien grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and it has bred her to have a love for music, coffee, the ocean, and rain. Her love for writing was planted at a young age, with the encouragement of beautiful family and inspiring teachers, and grew into a passion she cannot go a day without. During the day, Shae is also an English teacher, promoting the art of the written word among the youth of Austin. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Off The Wookie, AIPF Di-verse-city Anthology 2012, and TWENTY: Poems In Memoriam. She recently self-published her first chapbook, "Truths Unspoken", which takes the reader on a poetic journey through the passion, love, heartbreak, and rebirth of a relationship. You may find her on any given night writing or performing her work around Austin, TX.

Please note that all poems and/or parts are the property of Shae O'Brien and should not be shared without giving due credit.

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The War on Grammar

   Though most of you know me as a poet, I live a daily life following my passion for words in another way--teaching. I teach high school English. While it is not something I normally discuss on my blog, I feel that something important needs to be addressed today, and I am hoping you will help me spread the word.

   GRAMMAR. A word that plagues the lives of English teachers across America. This word alone has been used to demean our skills, justify our low pay, and shrug off our importance in your children's classrooms. The average person often isn't sure exactly what grammar is, though they often assume it has something to do with the squiggly lines underneath their writing in Microsoft Word.

Ok, so that isn't the true definition. The actual definition is this:

  1. 1.
    the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology (including inflections) and sometimes also phonology and semantics.

(Thanks Google!)

   While grammar used to be a skill respected and demanded by society, expectations have decreased quite a bit due to one new little invention: social technology. Cell phones, emails, Facebook, Twitter...the list grows everyday with a new app or website dedicated to compacting as much information as possible into the least amount of characters. As it turns out, when worth is determined by how few characters you use, people build a habit out of cutting out--in all areas of their lives.

   So, my students begin their days on Facebook, upload their breakfast pics (see? they're not even called pictures anymore) onto Instagram, tweet their friends for a ride to school, shoot a quick text of "I <3 U" to their parents, and land on the doorsteps of our public school steps with phones in hand and minds left back in bed. It shouldn't be a surprise that, when they begin their English assignment for the day, I am often greeted with the following choice complaints: 

"Why do we have to do this?"

"What do you mean, this isn't a sentence?"

"How come you don't just grade for completion?"

...and the reason why I write this today...

"But nobody else cares about grammar!"

   It hits me like a grenade to the soul. You see, the results of the "War on Grammar" may be on my students' lips as they work, but it is fought and funded daily by you and me. The truth is, Facebook has over 1.3 billion active users, Twitter has over 675 million users, and over 425 billion texts are sent out each month (http://www.statisticbrain.com/). Most of us encounter the world of techspeak multiple times a day through our various uses social technology, and every day we make a choice to fight for or against proper grammar. 

   In case you're wondering how this affects our students today, here is an awesome graphic to educate you. But this isn't just affecting our teens. This is affecting our adults as well. Parents respond to texts in techspeak, post Facebook statuses without capitalization, shorten words by omitting letters or replacing them with numbers on Twitter...and eventually this ignorance or laziness spills onto the floor of our workplace. A study done by the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP says that 45% of employers surveyed said they have begun increasing employee-training programs to improve grammar in the workplace. Almost half of employers surveyed! 

   Sadly, I have personally seen evidence of this truth in my own workplace as well. Professional Developments with mistake-ridden PowerPoints, emails sprinkled with IDKs and emoticons, and everyday speech with a serious lack of proper subject-verb agreement invade my grammar-loving heart throughout the semester. When students come to my class complaining that "no other teacher cares about this!", I am no longer surprised. 

   So, why write this? To show off my own more-grammatical-than-thou skills? Not at all. In fact, any person who knows decent grammar could tear apart this article for its sentences starting in conjunctions or ending in prepositions, fragments without subjects, and punctuation errors for days. This article isn't being written to suggest we need perfection--it is being written to promote a more conscious attitude about grammar. But I can't do it alone. It takes a village to raise a child. So, here are a few things you can do to help our youth learn the importance of grammar:

1) Set an example for the grammatical expectations of situations. If you are hanging out at home, feel free to use slang and techspeak. If you are addressing a stranger in front of your kids (at the grocery store or bank for example), use more formal English. This will help them learn that proper grammar often serves as a first impression to strangers and that it also serves as a sign of respect for the person you are speaking to (or "to whom you are speaking" for those of you keeping track of my errors).

2) Correct your own grammar. This is a small action that makes a big difference. When you say "There's a few people I'd like you to meet", simply take a moment to rephrase with "Oops! I meant 'there are'". If you use Facebook to vent about "my too horrible coworkers", use the Edit tool (or leave a comment) to address the error and replace "too" with "two". (And yes, I'm sure you can come up with a sentence in which "my too horrible coworkers" would have been correct.) We humans learn by example, so let's teach each other that it's ok to make mistakes, but it's also important to correct them.

3) Look up what you don't know. If you ever question the correct spelling of a word or proper usage of a comma, look it up! Nowadays, you can Google anything, and most topics have websites, Wikipedia articles, blogs, and even Facebook Pages dedicated to them! (I personally love the Grammar Girl. Feel free to post a comment with your favorite site below!)

   For the record, I'm not judging anyone's Facebook statuses or tweets (at least not out loud). I'm simply asking for a little help in educating our youth. The truth is, I am the English teacher, but I am not the only one teaching English to my kids each day. We are all teachers of the English language, and it's up to us to help each other look our best in person and in print.

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