By Meta J. Mereday, writer/editor and diversity, media and community development expert
You are probably asking “why is she writing about dumbing down during the great age of digital explosion when information exchange and global interaction has launched revolutions of social as well as technological change?”
However, I am still asking because of the impact on young people who have become more comfortable in the short hand exchanges of texts and instant messaging. We need a new code book to decipher the IDK, BFF, LOL and other symbols that have changed the face of communication and removed the previously acceptable communication terms – “Hello”, “How are you?” and, heaven forbid, courtesies such as, “Thank you” and “You are welcome.”
What have we done to the next generation who will have more physically debilitating ailments such as hunched shoulders and arthritic fingers because of the constant stooping and texting that they do throughout the day in the shorthand that drives English teachers crazy? The battle to get students today, who find it easier to use shorthand and short cuts, to learn is not helping the United States to maintain its global supremacy. Other lesser developed countries still emphasize the first key to success – learning English.
We may marvel that while our own children are failing their native language, we implore those coming to our shores to learn “our language.” We fail to practice what we preach and continue to shower our children with the state-of-the-art tools that keep them in step with their friends, but not in sync with the future. Technology does have its place, but conversation and grammar should also be in the forefront. It is crucial to our domestic security and business infrastructure.
Charles J. Sykes highlighted much of these concerns in his book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why America’s Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write or Add. He cited findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in its 1990 report that only one in six nine-year-olds read well enough to “search for information, interrelate ideas and make generalizations.” Sykes goes on to discuss the implications as it affects the countries economic picture. He states that: American businesses are spending upwards of $30 billion on workers’ training and lose an estimated $25 to $30 billion a year as result of their workers’ weak reading and writing skills. Also, according to a survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, nearly a third of American businesses said the learning skills of their workers are so low that they are unable to reorganize work responsibilities.
Without a command of the language and how to translate the information with understanding, we become dependent on others to speak for us. Our ancestors, who liked the college degrees and the journalistic chops, understood the importance of the spoken and written word in its basic elements. We are doing a disservice to the next generation by accepting the current trends in minimizing the written word and excusing bad behavior that supports lack of dialogue and discussion.
I am a part of the “spell it out-speak it out” generation because I owe it to those who laid down their lives so that I could have command of the English language. This enable me to write a coherent sentence, conduct an intelligent conversation and make decisions based upon my own knowledge and evaluation.