Advertisements

The Lighting of a Fire

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” –William Butler Yeats

As you are all undoubtedly aware, I love English. And words. And language. And grammar. And all things related to such. Not just English, either. I love other languages equally as much. Yesterday, Andreas taught me the word Jötunn, which means a Scandinavian troll. HOW AWESOME IS THAT. The most awesome, is how. (Per Andreas, it is “the origin of the word giant – jätte in Swedish.” You all only WISH you had a friend as awesome as Andreas who knows about not ONLY science but ALSO geekily kickass foreign words with umlauts! Oh, how mouth-watering, a well-placed umlaut! I SWOON FOR YOU, UMLAUTS!)

I’m reading a book right now, which we will soon be discussing over at Insatiable Booksluts (OH! HEY! By the way, are you reading/following/obsessing over Insatiable Booksluts? Because you should be. It’s awesome, and me writing for them is only a teeny portion of that awesomeness. It’s all things that are amazing in the world of books and publishing and related things on a well-written, intelligent, humorous blog. So go, go go. Follow. Read. You’ll love it. I promise. I mean, I’d promise you your money back? But no money is expended, so that’d be an empty promise. Also, I have no money to give. THIS WELL IS DRY) so I don’t want to spoil that or anything, but anyway, this book has some of the most gorgeous phrasing I’ve come across since I read Swamplandia! last year. It’s got some sentences that I read, then I re-read, aloud, to myself, two or three times, just to hear them in the air, and to taste them in my mouth, it’s that well-written. I’m that much of a fan of the beauty of language, and the power of language. I want to be MOVED by words. I want to weep when reading, or become enraged, or laugh out loud. I don’t want it to be a passive experience; I want to be engulfed, I want to burn with the words on the page. I want to be swept away, I want to drown.

I was lucky enough to have parents who believed very strongly in books and reading, and instilled that love in me from an early age. My mother read to me until I was old enough to take that duty on myself (much to both her glee and chagrin, that happened earlier than expected – glee because who wouldn’t be proud of a child reading to herself at three? But chagrin because that three-year-old was all, “DO IT MYSELF!” and she became irrelevant in the world of book-reading.) I’ve talked about this here before. My father, not a big reader, read to me when she was unavailable, and taught me the value of making books fun, of using voices and gestures and facial expressions when reading to make the experience richer and more fulfilling for a child. So really, my dad was my first well-narrated audiobook, I suppose. I remember reading to my younger brother, making him laugh until my mother would beg me to stop because he was getting red in the face with giggles and having trouble catching his breath.

All of this to say, I’ve always been a reader. Once I learned how to laboriously print my name, then the intricacies and beautiful loops and whorls of cursive, I became a writer as well. Maybe not the kind of writer who gets published (or, at least often), but there haven’t been many times in my life that I haven’t been writing SOMETHING. Short stories. Unfinished (and, horrible) novels. Poetry. Diaries upon tortured diaries. Long letters to friends in far-flung locales. Plays. Emails that take up pages and pages. And, obviously, more recently, blogs and tweets and (non-emo, thank you very much) Facebook statuses. And I’ve never been happier. Do I think my words are moving people to tears? Not often, probably. But they seem to be making people laugh, most days. And that makes me (to quote The Bloggess) FURIOUSLY HAPPY.

So yesterday, All Over Albany (one of my favorite local blogs, and my favorite local news/happenings blog) posted this. And because it was from them, and because it had the word “poetry” in the title, and because it was grammatically incorrect (but in quotes, so obviously not All Over Albany’s grammatical inaccuracy), I of COURSE had to click through to the article and read what was happening.

Oh, ouch. OUCH MY BRAIN. On so many ouchy levels.

So for those of you who are not aware of how the New York State educational system is set up, I’ll give you a quick crash-course. As a junior-high/high school student, you can follow a Regents track, and I believe there’s also a BOCES/VOTECH track, where you attend BOCES and vocational technology classes off-campus (my mother works in a building where these students attend classes so I believe this is still occurring as it did when I was a student.) (When I was in school, there was a non-Regents option. This has been phased out.) (There are a lot of parenthetical asides in this paragraph. Hee.) Regents are exams given at the end of the year (or, in some cases, I think after a semester – I feel like our government Regents was only a semester-long course? I may be misremembering this, though, and now that I think of it, did we even HAVE a government Regents? It says there’s one now, but I don’t remember if there was one then. Man, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been a student!) in a variety of subjects – 3 separate math exams (Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry), 4 separate science exams (Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), 2 separate Social Studies exams (global history/geography and US history/government) and an English exam. If you are a New York State student who passes the exams, you graduate with a Regents diploma (or, maybe since they changed it, it’s just a “diploma,” since everyone takes the exams now? Not sure about that, honestly.) If you graduate with high enough grades on them, you can get a Regents diploma with honors. (I’m not going to braaaag, or anything, but…yeah, that’s what I got. SHUT UP YOU KNEW I WAS A SUPERSTAR.)

If you want to know more (you probably don’t, it’s not all that interesting, I don’t think, to anyone but a New Yorker, or maybe people who get off on testing) here’s the Wikipedia page. It seems fairly accurate.

The exams weren’t easy, but I’m one of those annoying bitches who tests well (no, seriously, there really are people like this, we seem to have a sixth sense for what’s being asked for in test questions. I know. It’s annoying to others. Sorry), so I breezed them all but Algebra, Chem, Physics and Earth Science, which were my worst four subjects in school. Well, and Phys Ed, but you (THANK YOU ALL THE HEAVENS ABOVE) didn’t have to take a Phys Ed Regents exam. You can also re-take the exams as many times as you want to get your grade up, so I re-took three of those tests, and aced them the second time around. I did NOT retake Physics, because I had graduated high school at that point, already had my diploma, and wanted to hang out with my skeevy emo lead-singer-in-a-band skaterat boyfriend more than I wanted to study for an exam that had no bearing on my life, since I’d been accepted early into the college of my choice. Yep. Never looked back. Hated Physics. HAAAAATED IT.

Now, in that article from the New York Times I referenced like a million years  ago above, which I know you’re not clicking because a., you like me to recap shit for you, and I’m happy to do so, and b., you hate clicking on things, it’s like a phobia with you people, it talks about how the standards for the English Regents in New York State have fallen. OH HOW THEY HAVE FALLEN.

Teachers (again, I remember this from AGO, so correct me if I’m wrong) can make a little (WAY LITTLE, don’t even get me started on how much teachers get paid, don’t even) extra money if they sign up to score Regents exams. They’re given a sample scoring booklet. There’s a short-answer section on the English Regents (supposed to be a paragraph long) where the score is zero or one. According to the article, the following comes from a paragraph that would score a one, therefore the FULL POINT LEVEL, for one of these sections:

These two Charater have very different mind Sets because they are creative in away that no one would imagen just put clay together and using leaves to create Art.

Now, you do have to hand-write the exams, so yes, kids today are used to spell-check, I get that, even me, Queen of Spelling Bees (oh, I SO have to tell you all about my reign as the Queen of Upstate New York Spelling Bees someday), relies on spell-check a little more than I should, and even then, spells things wrong now and again, I AM NOT INFALLIBLE I AM NOT THE POPE. But reading this makes me think of the mythic “automatic 200 points” you were supposed to get if you put your name on top of the S.A.T. I mean, I guess, since the kid wrote SOMETHING, and it’s not GIBBERISH, and your choices in scoring are ALL THE POINTS or NO POINTS, you’d give him all, rather than none? But oh, my. Random capitalization! “imagen” and “charater” and “in away!” Run-on sentences!

(Please bear in mind that when you take this test, you are at the end of your junior year in high school. So you are between sixteen and seventeen years old. Not 12, as this sample might imply.)

According to the article, since the change where there is no longer a non-Regents track option, and all students must pass the Regents to graduate, the Regents board had one of three options: leave the tests difficult, leave the scoring as-is, and risk failing a lot of students; “dumb-down” the tests; or “dumb-down” the scoring. They seem to have gone for the third option. Scoring seems to be a very “just show up, Sally and Brian, and we’ll do our best by you” situation. And this is so, so sad to me. And it is failing our students. No, not “failing” them in a “you fail, repeat senior year” way; failing them in a “here, go forth unto the world without knowing how to write, spell, or think critically” way.

This one was my favorite. This was, according to the scoring booklet, supposed to get full marks on the long-form essay – four points. The assignment was to analyze Goethe’s quote “No two persons regard the world in exactly the same way.”

In life, “no two people regard the world in exactly the same way,” as J. W. von Goethe says. Everyone sees and reacts to things in different ways. Even though they may see the world in similar ways, no two people’s views will ever be exactly the same. This statement is true since everyone sees things through different viewpoints. 

ZOMG you guys. TOTAL FUTURE POLITICIAN. Every one of the sentences IS SAYING THE SAME THING. Just re-worded. Actually, I might be tempted to give this kid full marks for bullshittery. His grammar and spelling are perfect, though, I have to say. But the content in this? There is none. He (or it could be a she, don’t mean to be sexist) didn’t fulfill the assignment. I have no idea what the kid thinks of this quote. Because the kid just rephrased the quote FOUR TIMES. Brilliant way to get around doing any thinking, though. Gold stars for that.

And then there’s this, from the article: “Sad to say, during the Bloomberg administration, little if any progress has been made, if test results are to be believed. In 2003, 52.5 percent of fourth graders were proficient in English, compared with 51 percent in 2011. In 2003, 32.6 percent of eighth graders were proficient, compared with 35 percent today.”

Yes, I know test results are to be taken with a grain of salt. I know. And I know test results often don’t represent how much a child actually knows, and that some people test poorly, and on and on and on. But 35% of our eighth graders are proficient in English? THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT?

Here’s the thing. They don’t get any JOY out of language. They see English as I see Physics – a joyless soul-suck. And even I got some joy out of Physics – seeing how and why things worked the way they did was kind of cool, even though I couldn’t totally wrap my mind around it.

What’s the fix? Shit, I don’t know. I’m not an educational reformer. I just know that something’s terribly broken.

I have some ideas. They’re not fixes. Just ideas.

We need to bring the joy of language back to our students. We need to make it fun and cool again. We need to show them the worlds that books can open up for them and the magic in those worlds and the escape hatches contained therein. We need to show them the utter awe of having the exact right word available when needed. We need to teach critical thinking and debate skills. We need to show them the humor innate in any language, because you know what makes kids want to learn? HAVING FUN WITH IT. We need to drill the rules of grammar into their heads like we drill the multiplication tables in there, because they’re equally important. We need to cultivate a nation of children who will grow into a nation of adults who are proficient in the language they speak and write. Is this so hard? Is this so difficult to achieve? Obviously, it is. Why?

English teachers were some of my favorites, over the years. Because they, for the most part, absolutely dig what they do. They understood how a beautiful poem could burst in your mouth like a ripe fruit. They understood how a good short story took hold of you and shook you until you were limp when you closed the book. They loved when the students got something, really GOT something, when their little sponge-like minds soaked up knowledge and put it all together and were able to connect the dots.

What’s the fix? I don’t know. I couldn’t begin to tell you. But I’m despairing a little today. As someone who loves language as much as I do, who sees it as a constant companion and guide and friend? I’m despairing for the youth of America. They’re bereft, and this is a sad state of affairs. We’re failing them. There has to be a fix for this.

Advertisements

About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

40 responses to “The Lighting of a Fire

  • lynnettedobberpuhl

    LIKE, LIKE, LIKE, okay, LOVE this post! My god, girl, you DO have a way with the regular words, not just the funny ones. Naturally, the message, also. I, too, worry about the kids, and I have two in high school floundering through the classes as though they don’t have all the resources they need. I am reblogging this. Also, I have never seen an image that I wanted tattooed on my body before, but the one you used at the top of this post jazzes me. It would probably be terribly painful though. Hmmm.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Aw, thank you! I love the words. I’m glad they love me back!

      Thank you for the reblog!

      I wish I could credit that image, which is so lovely, but found it in a random Google Image search and it had no artist attached. If you’re the artist of today’s image, I’ll happily credit your work! It’s beautiful, and I hate stealing!

      Sorry about your kids – I really, really wish I had some sort of magic wand or quick fix or advice that could solve this one, as it’s so dear to my heart. I just don’t know what the solution is!

      Like

    • Andreas Heinakroon

      Oh! Funny anecdote regarding tattoos! The king of Sweden during the early 19th century, Karl XIV Johan Bernadotte, had a tattoo he was very ashamed of. It read “Death to the king!”.

      The reason a king would have such a statement tattooed on his shoulder is that Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (as he was known before being crowned), had been a general under Napoleon Bonaparte and helped ousting king Louis XVI. A true revolutionary, in other words.

      But later he was adopted by the childless king Karl XIII of Sweden, and became the founder of the successful (and currently ruling) house of Bernadotte.

      The moral is: think carefully before tattooing anything onto your body; your political or religious views may change, but your tattoo will not.

      Like

      • lucysfootball

        I love this story and I love that you know this!

        Luckily, my upcoming tattoo I have planned will not embarrass me: it’s going to be a line of poetry or prose. Problem is, I haven’t decided which yet. I have it narrowed down to about ten, but I love them all SO MUCH. One of the very few times that loving literature is more of a hinderance than a help!

        Like

  • lynnettedobberpuhl

    Reblogged this on wordtabulous and commented:
    Here is a very special Lucy’s Football. Amy usually writes very witty, irreverant, and verbally spazzy posts that make me laugh out loud. This post, still entertaining but written in a more serious vein, brings up the issue of the mastering of English by our high school students (or the lack therof.) I hope you enjoy it, and please check out some of her other posts!

    Like

  • Omnibus

    Here is some German poetry, that is my particular favorite! (with umlauts!) :)

    Ein Hund kam in die Küche, und stahl dem Koch ein Ei. Da nahm der Koch den Löffel, und schlug den Hun zu Brei! Da kaman viele Hunde ung gruben ihm ein Grab, und setzten ihm ein Grabstein, worauf geschrieben stand: Ein Hund kam in die Küche, und stahl dem Koch ein Ei. Da nahm der Koch den Löffel, und schlug den Hun zu Brei!

    Like

  • blogginglily

    We’re not failing them. They’re fucking failing US!

    Little shits with their “I don’t give a shit” attitudes. You know what my attitude was going through High School? It was “I don’t give a shit”. . . but *I* learned. My teachers sucked just as bad as theirs do, probably WORSE since I was living in Montana and the talent pool was not remarkably deep. . . but did I not learn?? NO! I learned. I didn’t even WANT to learn, but I did it anyway, because that’s what my father did, and his father before him and so on. Stuff just happened to my brain against my will and I got “better”.

    We learned even though we didn’t give a shit and these kids should too. Don’t play it off that the education system is failing them. it isn’t. The teachers are the same. The kids are dumber and suck more. WAY dumber than they were when I was a boy.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      You don’t really believe that. Do you? My sarcasm filter seems to be broken today, so let me apologize in advance if you were being sarcastic. I’ve totally missed three different sarcastic things today, I’m not sure what’s up with that.

      I’d like to think that kids are still kids, now or when we were in school. I’m not saying AT ALL it’s the teachers faults, either. Yes, there are some bad teachers, and some bad students, there are bad humans, it’s just the way of the world, but overall, I think kids want to learn, and teachers want to teach them. Don’t they? Or am I way off-base? I mean, kids are little sponges! They just soak up the info! I mean, yes, it gets harder to teach them when they get older, I know that, with the attitudes and all the sex in their hormone-riddled brains and all, but they can still learn, right?

      Ugh, I’m so depressed thinking about this. If this is really true and you’re not even being sarcastic I’m going to live in a cave in the wilderness and live off roots and berries or something because these are the people who are going to be giving me my Alzheimer’s meds in like forty years. Gah.

      Like

      • blogginglily

        No. I don’t really believe it. I was being sarcastic.

        What I DO believe is that “things are the same as they’ve ever been.”

        I think chatspeak is up, but I don’t know that we, as a society, are any less bright (nor moreso) than we’ve ever been relative to any other generation.

        In general I think that 20 years ago, had blogging been available, a highly literate, passionate woman such as yourself would have written roughly the same blog. It would ALSO have raised a valid point, that we could be better than we are. But I think year to year we see improvements in language proficiency and literacy. Even your Bloomberg stats above point to continued improvement. . . just not as improvey as you’d like. I looked at literacy statistics for the past 100 years, and when you look at that big picture, literacy has shrunk nearly to nothing (in the aggregate) in this country.

        There will always be room for improvement and we should always strive to improve. . . but I don’t think we’re “failing” the nations’ youth. We’re just making slower progress than we’d like.

        Like

        • lucysfootball

          Whew, good. We all know I wouldn’t survive long living in a cave on roots and berries. I don’t even LIKE roots and berries.

          I agree. Kids are kids. I actually talked to my parents about this last night. Their response? My mom blamed video games, divorce, and television; my dad blamed the government. I do sometimes wonder if I wasn’t someone’s abandoned prom baby they adopted or something.

          Also, “highly literate” and “passionate”? JIM! Thank you! Yeah, suck on THAT, haters, I totally got a COMPLIMENT today. I’m going to be flying high on that ALL DAY LONG.

          Like

  • Kris Rudin (@krisrudin)

    Speaking of books that make you swoon with how they’re written, have you read “Cry, the Beloved Country”? YOU MUST. Beautiful, beautiful prose. The first page nearly had me in tears when I first read it. It still moves me! And, the book is just DARN good, overall. Hmm, might be time for a re-read, for me! ;-)

    Like

  • Andreas Heinakroon

    Then it might interest you that the ‘ö’ in jötunn is pronounced 3: (like the ‘u’ in burn).

    In addition to the umlauted ö (Ö) and ä (Ä), who represent oe and ae respectively (the e was written above the o or a, but later shrunk and turned into todays double dots), Swedish also have the å (Å), symbolising ao, with the o written above the a. We don’t have the German/Turkish ü, though.

    Like

    • Andreas Heinakroon

      (I realise I missed the apostrophe in “today’s” above. It’s one of my blind spots.)

      Like

      • lucysfootball

        I didn’t even notice, because I was too busy wiping away grammar-related drool.

        Like

        • Andreas Heinakroon

          Then you wouldn’t mind me telling you that the German ü (Ü) represent a short slightly dark y, a little bit like the y in party. This obviously means that the German word über is pronounced [y]ber, not oober (I’m pretty sure you already know this), which is how it’s usually pronounced by English-speaking people. That always annoys me – and I don’t even speak German!

          Like

          • lucysfootball

            “Short, slightly dark y.”

            That is poetic and beautiful.

            And no, I didn’t know that about über – I pronounce it (when I use it, not often) “oober.” I LOVE THE INTERNET. Seriously, anyone who says the internet is part of the dumbing-down of society can bite me twice. I learn new things online that are awesome EVERY DAY. Thank you, Andreas!

            Like

    • lucysfootball

      This entire comment is so full of grammatical win I can barely stand it. My head might pop right off. If it does, it’s totally your fault, Andreas. But I won’t blame you. LOOK AT ALL THAT GORGEOUS GRAMMATICAL KNOWLEDGE. It’s like candy for my MIND.

      Like

  • Andreas Heinakroon

    I don’t even want to think about the current state of education! It’s like people don’t even want to learn! (I’ve been starting on a blog post on this subject multiple times, but I get too angry and have to stop.)

    I can’t imagine a life without learning new stuff every day – why would I even bother getting up in the morning? Like today: I learned the German word Krapfen for jelly doughnuts – how great it that? Krapfen. Awesome.

    You live and you learn. Or you don’t learn and stagnate. Stagnate and die.

    Like

    • Andreas Heinakroon

      (Oh! I forgot to give credit to @lahikmajoe for teaching me the word Krapfen.)

      Like

      • lucysfootball

        @lahikmajoe, I think a nice thing would be that every day, you choose an awesome German word you think I would love and teach it to me. Eventually, I will know ALL the German. Then I can come and visit you and not embarrass myself! Wouldn’t that be fun? YES.

        Like

        • lahikmajoe

          This is funny. I was feeling bad that I didn’t even make it here yesterday, and here you were talking about me.

          A German word everyday? Hmmm…I could do that. Though it won’t necessarily mean that you’ll magically be able to speak German at the end.

          So for today we have the German word for mustard:

          ‘Senf’

          As in: ‘Ich will mehr Senf’ (I want more mustard)

          This could get interesting. Shall I put these in your comments in the future? I’ve been able to stop writing blogposts here in your comments, but now a new word everyday.

          Like

          • lucysfootball

            I’m talking about this tomorrow on here, so I won’t spoil that. THIS IS SO EXCITING.

            I don’t know – Twitter might be better, if you’re serious and really would send me a German word or phrase every day. I know I’m queen of sarcasm but I’m not even kidding that I think that idea is amazing and wonderful and lovely.

            Like

    • lucysfootball

      “Krapfen” and “Grabstein” (which I just looked up and apparently, it means “headstone” or “tombstone” and that is just AWESOME) are my two favorite German words of the day.

      I completely agree. There is nothing I like more than learning a new thing. And I agree – once you stop learning, you start growing old at an exponential rate, and you die. There are so many things to learn in the world! And they’re so interesting! Why would you ever want to stop learning?

      Write that blog post. I’d love to hear your take on this!

      Like

      • Andreas Heinakroon

        Ah yes. Of course: Grabstein is gravsten in Swedish, where Grab/grav became grave in English and stein/sten turned into stone (no pun intended), giving you grave stone. This goes to show how closely related English is to German and Swedish (well, Norse actually) but it also highlights my obsession with etymology.

        (I feel a bit like the dad in the film My big fat Greek wedding: “Give me a word – any word! – and I shall show you the root of that word is German or Swedish!”)

        Like

        • lucysfootball

          I love etymology, too! I was the nerd in school who’d read the dictionary, obsessed with the notations under some words telling you the etymology of the word. I find it fascinating! (Well, I was the nerd in school for a lot of other reasons than that, but you know what I mean.)

          Like

  • kitchenmudge

    My own blog is so full of whining about language that I hardly know where to start, except: “Thank you for another entertaining post.”

    The umlaut has another meaning to anyone who has seen “One Two Three”:

    A “ü” in German is pronounced close to a French “u”, but not exactly. A little more in the direction of the “oo” in “book”. The vowel combination “aü”, however, is pronounced “oy”.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: