"These kids aren't learning to spell," said Jacquie Ream in a press release. "They're learning acronyms and shorthand. Text messaging is destroying the written word."
Give me a break, lady. (For anyone even more out of touch than I am, a text message is sent over a cell phone by tapping it letter by letter on the little keypad, abbreviating like crazy to keep it short.)
I love texting! Not that I've done it much myself but I can see its advantages. Last time my daughter Zoe visited us alone, she could keep in touch with her fiancé Jeff with a quick glance at the screen to see what he'd written and tapping out a reply. Why, we had hardly a blip in our conversation while she sympathized with him over UCLA being eliminated from the Final Four.
The only texting I've done is replying. When one of my children sends me a text message, I reply. Very awkwardly and it takes forever but still I reply. I've done it at least twice, and of course was mocked, but in a loving way. They know I could master this skill if I really, really needed to.
I understand from friends with teens that texting can be way overdone, as in thousands of messages a month. Now I agree that is abusing technology but I still don't see how it would conflict with anyone's mastery of the English language. I think of it more as being bilingual with texting as a second language. I don't see my son hesitating when switching back and forth between German and English, so why can't a person go from texting abbreviations to proper writing? OK, last time we talked he said "fire workers" when he meant "firefighters" but the English in his e-mails is still impeccable.
Ream went on to say a recent national Center for Education Statistics study reported that only one out of four high school seniors is a proficient writer. The purpose of the press release was to promote Ream's book, "K.I.S.S. Keep It Short and Simple," which she says lays out a formula to make writing easier. She also cited another survey that showed the nation's blue-chip companies found only two-thirds of their employees are capable writers. That certainly may be so but weren't these company employees educated largely before texting?
But what do I know? So I called Kathy Moore, reading and writing specialist for the school district. She said my call was well-timed because she and some other educators had just spent a couple of days reading ninth-grade essays from across the district. Although they know the kids all use text messages, she told me, the teachers didn't find it has had any impact on their formal writing. "I think it might even be the opposite," she said. It is a mental exercise to use acronyms.
Kathy compared it to the way the kids talk one way in front of their peers and another way for teachers or other adults. In other words, it's a whole other language. Furthermore, she took a class last semester at Stanford about research on writing and one of the professors had done a study 30 years ago when there was concern that writing conventions were failing - but they found it wasn't true. "They found the students were not making any more mistakes than 100 years ago," Kathy told me. They again pulled students' work for a study last year and found the same thing.
Ream also says standardized testing is hurting critical thinking skills because teachers must spend time teaching to the tests. "The kids learn how to regurgitate information to parrot it back for the correct answer, but they can't process the thought and build on it," she said. She also said although Neison/NetRatings reports the average teen visits more than 1,400 Web pages a month, they fumble when asked for thoughts of their own. I don't know about that although I hate the idea of teaching to a test. But I seem to come in contact with people of all ages who can articulate quite well why they disagree with me.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.