Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Our high schools are failing us! (contributor post)

I’ve been teaching for quite some time now, and I have always harped on my students’ writing.  I’m a teacher, that’s my job.  Many of the mistakes students make are understandable.  We are witnessing the death of the apostrophe because of texting – possessives are getting mangled these days.  If I had a dime for every “ones book” I read instead of “one’s book,” I’d be rich.  I should also mention the split infinitive – “to greatly appreciate” instead of the correct “to appreciate greatly.”  And there will always be the slips of these pairs: their/there, their/they’re, than/then, and/an, one/on, are/our and lead/led.

But what really gets my goad is the lack of gender/racial inclusive writing.  For some shitty reason, high school English and writing teachers are either not teaching or are teaching inadequately that our current state of writing involves a huge bias esteeming the white male.  HUGE!  Students seem to be unaware that their current writing and speaking habits are reinforcing bad stereotypes.

The white male is considered the standard.  People feel compelled to point out a person’s race, ethnicity, or gender when the person is not a white European male.  Why?  Because the white European male is the assumed default norm.

Concerning gender alone, male pronouns are for some reason generic.  Students use “mankind” and “man” to refer to everyone.  “He” is used as the default pronoun.  But HELLO!  That just makes women invisible.  Replace all “mankind” with “humankind.”  It’s really an easy fix.  Replace all instances of “man” (where it is supposed to be generic) with either “people” or “humans.”  Replace “he” with “she” sometimes, or just move to the plural.  It’s so easy I could cry.  So wtf is up with high school teachers!  Why are they not teaching these things!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe it’s nostalgia.  Neil Armstrong famously said, “One small step for man; one giant step for mankind.”  Everyone loves the quote, everyone finds it SOOO inspirational.  Yeah, Neil needed an English lesson to not poo-poo women.  First, Neil should have included the indefinite article before “man” – “a man” – that would have made the first half clearer.  But the second half!  Come on!  HUMANKIND.  I know, I know.  Someone is bound to say that those changes, especially the second, loses the poetics of the saying, thus, sacrificing its power.  Well, suck it up.  I don’t care.  Neil could have figured something else out.  He had somewhere around a million English words to concoct something.  But my guess is that English and writing teachers love these kinds of quotes just the way they are.  They themselves are unaware of their linguistic biases, or they just don’t find anything wrong with them because that’s just the way things are.

Alas, these high school teachers need a swift kick to their asses.  Our students shouldn’t be leaving high school without learning gender/racial inclusive writing.

That’s my rant.

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