Wednesday, September 15, 2010

All Is Not Good

I would like to ask you all about something I've been wondering over lately.

I sometimes wonder whether I am too uptight with my children about using proper English. My parents were never very strict with me about it when I was young but they both were highly educated and always spoke properly, especially around the dinner table.

My children sometimes say things like "I did really good," or "I don't want to do nothing." I always make sure to correct them politely when they do this. "You did really well?" I ask. You don't want to do anything?" I correct.

In general good is an adjective and well is an adverb so it makes no sense to say "did good", but it is also not quite so simple. See Grammar Girl's excellent post on the subject for more details. Double negatives are much simpler of course, because if you DON'T want to do NOTHING, then logically you WANT to do SOMETHING.

There is nothing wrong with speaking incorrectly on purpose, to be cool, hip, or for humor, but I believe that you ought to know how to speak (and therefore write) correctly first.

I mean I can speak regional slang with the best of them:

In Boston my skills would be wicked pissah, boyo.
In New York they would be game tight, son.
In Los Angeles they would be the shizzle, dog.

Anyway that sure was silly but my point is that to truly understand slang and colloquialisms I believe you must truly appreciate proper English. I'm by no means an expert grammarian, just ask my critique group, but I do have a decent vocabulary and I believe in knowing the meaning of words, both the denotation and the common connotations before you put them to use. I hope to instill a similar love of language in my daughters.

The reason this came up is that last night my fourth grader was talking about her Horizons classes. Here in Georgia that is the accelerated track for reading and writing in elementary school. For some reason the terms B.C. and A.D. came up. She got Before Christ right but when she said that A.D. meant After Death I was surprised. When I asked her where she heard that and she said her Horizons teacher, I got a little upset.

A brief breakdown: A.D. stands for Anno Domini or sometimes Anno Domine which is a Medievil Latin phrase that roughly translated means In the Year of Our Lord. It is sometimes specified more fully as Anno Domini Nostri Iesu (Jesu) Christi (In the Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ). Basically these two terms are used in the Gregorian and Julian Calendars to refer to the era before Christ's birth, and the era after. There is no year zero; 1 A.D. directly follows 1 B.C. It would make no sense for A.D. to stand for After Death (or after his death, or whatever) because then there would be no calendar reference for the 33 years he was alive.

Needless to say I was a little upset that her accelerated teacher didn't know this. This kind of thing seems to be pretty common in public education here in Georgia. Then I calmed down, reminded myself that I am sometimes an uptight and total nerd about stuff, and that this teacher was probably not a history or a latin major, and I calmly explained the correct usage to my daughter, throwing in a little B.C.E. (Before Common Era) for good measure.

She wasn't very interested, but she did listen politely. Hopefully she'll remember it.

Here endeth the lesson.

So what do you all think? Is it important to teach our children proper English? If so how high of a priority should it be? What do you do when you hear of a teacher telling your child something that you know is incorrect?

P.S. Sorry I made it to almost no one's blog yesterday. We have hired new people again and I spent most of the day training one of them. I will probably make it to very few blogs again today. I'm going to need a BA meeting very soon. Where's my sponsor?!? Beth?!?


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Hmm...interesting. I actually didn't know the entire reasoning behind that either. Thanks. And I think it's important to correct them, but don't go all gah-gah about it. They may end up disliking English.

vic caswell said...

i was actually thinking about this the other day. since we've moved to kansas, my grammar has slipped faster than a bear on butter, and i just realized that it is passing on to my sons.
there's no reason to be obnoxious about it, but i've been trying to slowly correct some of the everyday grammar mistakes they hear.
the A.D. thing- i learned it as after death when i was a kid in public schools too, and i always wondered how we counted the years of His life. so, thanks for clearing that up for me. i wonder if there is someone teaching the teachers wrong, so they teache the kids wrong, and the kids grow up to be teachers and the cycle starts again???

LMB said...

Many people make that mistake with A.D, but I'm surprised that a teacher would...I think that grammar is important, but it seems like a dying form nowadays. That’s great that you’re taking the time to teach your kids the proper way.

Kristine Asselin said...

I agree that it's important that teachers use correct grammar--but they are people too so the occasional slip is OK. My daughter swears by her teacher--but Mom, well, Mom is often wrong. LOL.
My pet peeve is when stores/logos use incorrect spellings--it's a wonder any of us can spell anymore. (Things like Kidz, etc. It's early so I can't think of any other examples, but it's annoying. :)) Oh, and song writers who use bad grammar...don't get me started...

Stephanie Lorée said...

My boyfriend has an 8 year old who comes to live with us during the summer. During that time, I am always politely correcting her English. Also, we tend to use an extensive vocabulary in common speech (IE: we talk big word-ums), and she frequently asks for their definitions.

I don't see anything wrong with polite reminders, it's how they learn. No reason to be angry or nasty about it, but polite corrections are fine and SHOULD be done.

As for BC/AD, the AD thing is a common mistake. Lots of folks think AD means After Death, myself included until a few years ago, and I was in accelerated classes as well.

Renae said...

I think kids need to learn proper English. My dad always corrected us and though I hated it at the time, I am grateful now. Of course my husband laughs at me when I correct my son and reminds me of who I sound like. Oh well. The child is going to sound educated if it kills me!

Hannah said...

it does bother me when teachers are incorrect but even the smartest people don't know everything. I love looking up words and their meanings. I may not aways remember but such is life.

Emily White said...

Wow. I am shocked the teacher actually taught that.

Perhaps I did only know it because I studied Latin, but I'm fairly certain I remember learning the correct translation of A.D. from teachers OTHER than my Latin teacher.

If it were me, I would say something to the teacher. Of course, I did call out my Ancient Civ. Professor in college when he claimed Julius Caesar was the first Roman emperor, so maybe I'm just a tad confrontational. But I believe teachers should know what they're talking about if they're going to be teaching students.

As far as being a stickler for good grammar, I don't think you're being too uptight at all. An ability to communicate well is very important. If we didn't have some parents taking this seriously, the language would degrade even faster than it already is.

Stina said...

Oops! I keep making that A.D mistake, too. I think I also learned it in school . . . in England. So obviously the mistake more a global one. And of course, I couldn't figure out about those missing years of his life, but I figured adults knew more than me, so who was I to question them.

Alissa Grosso said...

First off, I'm from New Jersey and so are both of my parents, and I've always felt that my English suffered as a result. My father has always pronounced words like "idea" as if they end in an "r."

That said, I would flip out over the A.D. thing as well. I've heard the after death thing before, and like you have always flipped into nerd mode to correct it. That it's coming from a teacher is very scary!

Jaydee Morgan said...

I think it's good for kids to learn good grammar and such - though I'm not too much of a stickler at home. However, I absolutely hate seeing my kids chat online/text with all the abbreviated text. I sometimes wonder if they even know how to spell out those words.

Theresa Milstein said...

Ask Missed Periods. She turns her students' mistakes into lessons for the rest of us.

When I taught fifth-grade SS, I taught my students A.D. I also taught them the B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) because some texts show it that way.

Sometimes I'll correct my children. "Anyways" drives me crazy. But mostly I'll repeat what they said, but with the correct wording, emphasizing what they said wrong.

I think you're doing the right thing. When teachers are making mistakes, we're all they have.

Private said...

After death? Seriously? Anno Domine is a bit arrogant, though... In Norway we say "før kristus" ( and "etter kristus" ( - before and after christ. Much easier that way.

But I agree with you about the slang - you enjoy it best when you know the correct grammar!

Unknown said...

I'm with aspiring x, I learned that A.D. was after death in public school and was never corrected even in church, so I find it surprising that they would give false information, but I appreciate the clarification.

I would correct my children to use better grammar, even if slang is something that is used in school. I don't mind if they use slang, but I do think they should know the correct term, because later in life is where it makes the difference.

Melissa Gill said...

I think you should always correct your childrens grammar. My parents with both teachers and they did it, well, for as long as they had to. (If only they could have taught me to spell and puncutate the same way.)

As for AD, I think we learned that in school too. And really it mades so much sense, up to a point, why would you question it. Okay if you start to wonder what happened to the years during Christ's life.

Fortunatley Ben Hur enlightened me when I was about 12 and really noticed the beginning of the movie for the first time.

Vicki Rocho said...

I think it's MOST important that proper language is modeled for kids. If you speak even moderately good English and they read a decent amount, they'll be fine. At least I was. I remember my teacher making us ask May I ____? instead of Can I ___? Those subtle little corrections do sink in!

Sarah Ahiers said...

i think it's important to teach them. I mean, later in life they can always dumb down their speech if they want, but they can't "smarten it up" per se unless they know it.

Anne Gallagher said...

Yes yes and yes. Children should be taught correct grammar and manners (can I get on my high horse for a second here).

My daughter is only five but I am constantly on her for her grammar. I think it's important they learn early. At least I know I've tried to do my part.

As for manners, please and thank you and excuse me are a must in my house. And I do get compliments that she is such a polite child.

And yes, I would take that teacher to task for not teaching correctly. It's one thing to not know that, it's another thing to teach incorrectly.

Jude said...

Definitely. But once you know that they know proper grammar, then it's probably okay to let them talk however they want for the sake of hipness and humor, like you said.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Holy cow! You've just cleared up something I've wondered about for years...LOL and I was a fourth grade teacher...

I wish someone would have dropped me a note telling me what A.D. really stood for...I would not have taken offense. :)

Have fun with your new hires...

Will Burke said...

I've no children in school yet, but if it wasn't a mistake, but some sort of platform/agenda, I think I'd void myself. I know that wasn't the question, but it's what came to mind.
All great artists were rule-breakers, and most of them spent years learning the rules first!

Bish Denham said...

Yes, its important to speak and write properly. But may I suggest, instead of you giving them the correct sentence, ask THEM to resay the sentence in its correct form. That way you'll know if they've got it or not. I'll bet they do, because they hear how you speak. It's just not the cool thing to do today.

And it's an abomination when teachers don't know their own subject matter. One doesn't need to know Latin to know what AD means. My parents were not shy about explaining things to me when they knew a teacher was wrong. Don't you be either. Education is not just for schools. You as a parent are responsible as well.

Jessica Bell said...

You raise a very interesting point! You know, I 'know that the answer 'I'm well', to the question, 'how are you? is the correct answer' But ever since I was a child I'd answer in speech 'I'm good'. Which technically is wrong. I guess, though, if you just make sure they HEAR the correct English, you'll be fine. They'll get to an age when they'll feel stupid for speaking badly for the sake of being cool. As long as they know the difference, I don't think you've got much to worry about. :o)

Nicole Zoltack said...

LOL I correct my hubby and siblings all the time, so I'm sure I'll correct my kids once they start talking. I just can't help myself, although I try to refrain correcting my MIL. It's important to talk properly, in my mind. It shows intelligence.

Melody said...

It's my personal opinion that using improper grammar is a right, not a privilege, and that right is gained by knowing good grammar. But that's just me. :)

Simon Kewin said...

I'm absolutely with you : I always correct my children when they use incorrect grammar. In a light-hearted sort of way, sure, but they need to know! I have to restrain myself from doing the same with adults too ...

It seams incredible to me that someone wouldn't know what AD stood for. That said, I have no idea what an accelerated teacher is, although it does sound rather cool. I don't think we have them in the UK. I have this vision of them racing around at twice human speed ...

Eric W. Trant said...

My wife does not use proper grammar, and in fact she's not a big reader. She's one of them girls with street smarts, if you get me.

I don't got nothing.


That ain't right.

And so on.

I let it slide. Who'm I to correct her. I get on my kids a little, but not too much, usually for obvious things like when they say, I digded a hole, or some such.

I dug, baby, it's I dug a hole.

Most people just don't care.

My mom was an English teacher and librarian. Oh man, did we speak proper English.

And my senior year in high school, me being top of my class, as in one of the top two students, writing stories and calling myself a writer, I walked around with the word Grammer on notebook.

Go figger. I ain't the grammar police, you know.

- Eric

LTM said...

Answer: Yes.
#2: You + me = Tardy to the party!

Can I just say shew and thanks for not letting me be the only bozo who forgot the blog hop???

I know... it was all that bloofin off (blog goofing off?) I was doing the first part of the week. I've been work-cramming. :o\

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Yes, you need to teach the girls to speak properly. And if that's the worst it gets in public ed, well, you're extremely lucky.

That said, I about pulled my hair out when my kid came home with a "science" lesson that had a circuit that couldn't possibly work, hooked up to a battery that was physically impossible. Also, not the correct number of electrons in a carbon atom. So yeah.

Unknown said...

I think language is a big deal, so I'm all for (gently, politely) correcting children's speech. I don't think we have to be SUPER strict about it during casual discourse - Lord knows I abuse grammar all the time while speaking casually - but for essays and presentations, it's important knowledge.

Slightly off-topic, but when I was a kid, we were never allowed to swear. A swear word would be met with immediate and strict punishment. My dad was of the opinion that it was crude, low, and trashy.

Now that I'm an adult, of course, he and my mother swear all the time. As do I. Because using swear words is not really directly linked to your intelligence or class. But I still remember how strict my dad was about it, and I kind of think that was ridiculous now.

I mean, I understand explaining to a child that we don't swear in mixed company because some people find it offensive. And that there are better ways of expressing ourselves. Okay. But not flat-out acting like it's unacceptable, you know? I suppose that's much the same way I feel about language. We should teach and explain, but not be dictators about it.

Unknown said...

My parents were strict about grammar.
I think teaching correct grammar is important because poor grammar habits can be hard to break.
It is probably hard to remember that A. D. means "The Year of Our Lord" because that phrase isn't as widely used anymore.

Tere Kirkland said...

I say there's no harm in trying! Kids pick up what they hear over and over again. It'll sink in eventually.

But when I hear about the dissemination of false information, I get a little peeved, too. I always thought it would be fun to write a non-fiction book for kids about the lies we all learn as facts in school: Like that the Vikings never wore helmets with horns coming out of the sides, and how the Golden Spike of the Transcontinental RR was hammered in at Comanchee Crossing, not the more interestingly named Promontory Point.

I would have been one of the smart-aleck kids who would love a book like that, especially if it let me correct a teacher.

No stealing my idea, now! ;)

DEZMOND said...

well as a teacher this really isn't a tough question - yes, you should teach your children proper English it is of the utmost importance, otherwise we will get illiterate new generations who will forget their real language.
Other languages are in greater danger than yours, because our children use a lot of modern words from English and other cool languages which is basically killing our mother tongues and our culture.

Jeff Beesler said...

I'd say it depends on the situation. For class presentations and such, knowing proper English would only serve to help. For more informal situations, like hanging out with friends, it might not be such a big deal.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If you don't give them a proper foundation, they sure won't get it in school. (Sad to say.)
I sometimes correct my wife's pronunciations. Drives her nuts.

Unknown said...

It is important to correct them, ESPECIALLY here in Georgia, where our public schools have ranked in the bottom ten states nationwide in education for all ten years I've been living here. I attended a recent assembly where an administrator in our school system spoke, and I was flabbergasted by the number of grammatical errors she made in her address. I don't believe she had a speech prepared, but her sentences were riddled with plural subjects followed by singular predicates, lack of agreement between nouns and their modifiers, even sentences ending with prepositions. I'm sorry, but by my standards, that's unacceptable.

Poor grammar can become a habit. I correct my children at every mistake, because despite their eyerolls, they are learning to recognize the errors.

Don't even get me started about southern-isms. (Fixin' ta do something; getting your picture made; might could; used ta could...)

Okay, then. Rant complete. :))
((hugs)) Nicole

Old Kitty said...

I really don't think there's anything wrong with offering the correct versions of phrases, nor an explanation as to why BC's full term is in English and why AD is not!

Take care

K. M. Walton said...

Well, the only way a child will learn is if we teach them. Bottom line. And I'm coming at this from the dual perspective of teacher and parent. I truly believe the teaching has to come from school and then whenever possible, reinforced at home.

And the teacher not knowing the whole A.D./B.C. thing, don't be alarmed...we teachers are only human and it's not possible to know everything. I used to embrace when something came up that I didn't know. Heck, I'm pretty sure I learned something new every day I was in the classroom!!!

mshatch said...

yes, it is important to teach your kids to speak correctly. It doesn't mean they have to do it all the time but they should know how to - as my mother always said, you never know when you'll be visiting with the Queen.


I'm not another but I believe it is important. Just don't be too hard on them :)

Southpaw said...

Is it important to teach our children proper English? YES!
Slang is ok for friends but kids (um and adults) should now proper usage. Trust me executive notice.

If so how high of a priority should it be? HIGH

What do you do when you hear of a teacher telling your child something that you know is incorrect? Tell them as politely as you can. The wrong information can haunts your child into their adult years and college and screwed them up – yes, I know this for a fact.

Southpaw said...

I love that you taught your child about BC and BCE. That usage is popping up a lot in college textbooks and the sooner kids are made aware of it the better.

Ted Cross said...

I think it is absolutely critical to teach children to speak properly. If others want their children to be mediocre, that's fine, but I don't accept that for my children.

Colene Murphy said...

SO IMPORTANT! UGH! I can't explain how angry it makes me to hear parents and children using the same incorrect English. I mean, I know I'm not perfect but blatantly, obviously, cringe-worthy, incorrect English will be corrected. Some leniency is OKAY but, I agree with you, they should at least KNOW when they are using it wrong. I know to say "may" not "can" when asking to do something but do I? not always...but when I don't I always hear "may you...?" in my head lol.

Faith E. Hough said...

Yes! It is so important. I think that a solid, solid grasp of grammar is essential: so you can know when to misuse it. But you (or your children) will be in control. Otherwise the language, and the mistakes, will control you. Think if they ever want to be writers!
And I'm sorry, but it just makes me a little mad that a teacher would make such an error, fail to follow through logically and figure out what happened to those 33 years, and then teach it to children. Probably I'm hyper-aware of things like this...when I was 7, my "best friends" stopped talking to me because they insisted that the new day started at 1 am--which was what their teacher taught them!--and I corrected them that it began at midnight. They were so mad that I would imply their teacher was incorrect that they actually never played with me again. We were seven, for goodness' sake.
Ok, rant over.
Yes, teach proper grammar...and everything else. Please. I'm very proud of you for being involved in this very important aspect of your child's life. ;)

T.J. Carson said...

Basically I'd say, don't nag. I hate when my rents nag me. But kids do remember things their parents tell them so just be subtle about it and if you use good grammar around them, they'll pick it up. Kids are highly influenced esp by the people who surround them.