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Language skills lacking in American education

In Children and Family, Economy, Education, National News, Opinion, Technology, Uncategorized on December 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

DIH LOGOIn June of 2013 the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences released a report stating the United States is losing its long-time advantage in language and social sciences. Honestly, I didn’t need a federally mandated report to know that Americans are suffering from a chronic lack of language skills.

Every day I read business letters, websites, reports, technical documentation and a mountain of other material supposedly created by professionals but which exhibit the communication skills of a seventh-grader. Even basic sentence structure and punctuation seem to elude people today. Of course, it wasn’t always so.

Once upon a time, American education stressed the importance of what was somewhat inaccurately referred to as, the “three R’s” – reading, writing, and arithmetic. In those days, being able to read and write was considered paramount to a bright future and that’s never been truer than it is today. As information technology advances via the Internet and its collective user devices, one would expect people to actually become better communicators rather than the opposite.

Despite the low-tech, no-budget educational systems of the old days, it’s entirely possible Americans living a century ago may have been far better educated and communicative. Back then students of different grades spent the early school years together in a one-room schoolhouse having the basics repeatedly drilled into them. It might have been redundant by today’s standards, but people seemed to be better able to communicate.

WRITING R USRemote educational technologies coupled with strings of poorly strategized legislation have led to what I consider to be the isolation of the American student. Individualized study, Internet-based classrooms, severe budget reductions in schools and a constant decrease in human interaction have all contributed to the decline of language proficiency. Many states have even removed the teaching of cursive handwriting from the curriculum, a skill, in my opinion, that helps promote a more thoughtful, creative approach to the written language.

Today, however, humanities programs have continued to lose favor, not to mention funding, to high-tech and STEM schools. If you’re unfamiliar, STEM is an acronym for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, and refers to a school that specializes in those fields.

All well and good, particularly in today’s high-tech job market. But if these kids never learn to properly write a letter or give a verbal presentation, what’s the point? Having an engineering background myself I can personally attest to the fact that effective writing is vitally important in high-tech fields, yet communications courses are still not a priority for many schools.

Writers used to be highly respected, experienced professionals no matter what their area of expertise. Not anymore. Just ask anyone and you can bet he or she is a “writer,” making it harder for those more qualified who are trying to make a living. I don’t work cheaply, because I have two decades of experience writing for publishers and commercial clients and I am good at what I do.

Still, that seems to count for nothing when publishers are cash poor and I’m competing for work against the latest blogger cranking out poor quality content for free. Unfortunately, the ability for anyone and everyone to publish online has diminished the public’s intellectual expectations of quality content.

Qualified editors are likewise disappearing from the professional landscape. An increasing number of publishers are selling newspapers, magazines and books with scathing grammatical and technical errors making even the professionals appear amateur and sloppy.

It’s no wonder these skills are dying off even more rapidly than we might have anticipated even just five or six years ago. Increasingly, people are communicating not in words, but in a cyber-shorthand, through texting and instant messages. Words are abridged to their most needed letters making our written language read like a vanity license plate.

In order to remain competitive and relevant on the global stage, American education must enhance language and social science programs. If we put as much effort into reading and writing as we do into having the best football team, just imagine what our students could achieve.


Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and co-founder of the Western Ohio Writers Association. More at http://www.gerydeer.com

So many topics, so little substance

In history, Local News, National News, News Media, Opinion, Politics, World News on December 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm

DIH LOGOAs the year draws to a close, I’ve been planning the final few topics for Deer In Headlines in 2013. So far, I’ve got ten political topics, six personal, nine general and two holiday-related; none of which jump out at me as interesting to you, my readers. It could be I’ve decided that the absence of a subject is a topic in and of itself. Let me explain.

How much time each day do you spend thinking or worrying (not always the same activity) about things you can’t control? Are you readily preoccupied with global issues that have little or nothing to do with your daily life? What is it that really motivates you to get out of bed each day? I think we are just spending far too much time worried about nonsense.

I think maybe we are overly concerned with problems and situations that 1) have nothing to do with us directly, or 2) about which we can do absolutely nothing. Focusing on these things only wastes time and energy and takes our attention from far more pressing matters.

For example, a great leader was lost last week when Nelson Mandela passed away. Strangely, to me at least, it wasn’t really that much of a shock; the guy was 95, after all. What was shocking, however, was how little time the media and bloggers (no, they’re not interchangeable) spent discussing the Obama selfie photo and the fake sign language translator instead of focusing of the former South African president and his achievements.

It’s truly maddening that our attention was overtaken not on the legacy of a true hero but on how to politicize whether the president should have been smiling during the memorial. Think about it, that’s kind of a big deal. He was taking a cell phone picture with the prime ministers of Great Britain and Denmark. He had good reason to smile, even if Mrs. Obama seemed indifferent. But I think even that was out of context. We have no clue what she was thinking or what happened just before and after the picture.

President Obama speaks at Nelson Mandela memorial with reported "fake" sign language interpreter. Photo Courtesy AFP, Pedro Ugarte.

President Obama speaks at Nelson Mandela memorial with reported “fake” sign language interpreter. Photo Courtesy AFP, Pedro Ugarte.

Given the state of the world today, instead of criticizing them, we should be grateful that there are two world leaders willing to be in the same picture with the American president in the first place. I believe Mr. Mandela would have been gratified that people were getting along and smiling as they celebrated his life, including Obama’s handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro. At least we’re not shooting at each other.

Every day we’re confronted with bad news. I work in the media but try to ignore much of the negative. I have enough of my own problems and I needn’t concern myself with the ridiculousness of the latest Washington scandal or whether the president should have shaken hands with a dictator. Who cares? No one but the pundits, that’s who.

Pundits are supposed “experts” in a particular field called upon for comment by the news media. Sadly, most of these so-called experts are nothing of the kind. They’re often just celebrities who tend to be publicity hounds and find a way to know something about everything at precisely the right moment. Once again, there we go worrying about things that have nothing to do with us. Why do we care what these people think about anything?

Most pundits are so far removed from average people there is no way they could relate to the trials and tribulations of holding a job, paying a mortgage or trying to determine the source of your next meal. They just don’t get it – and they don’t care.

Taking this back around to the idea of the non-topic, as we slide headlong down that snowy slope into the Christmas holidays, remember to stay focused on what matters to you and yours. Ignore the sensationalized news and the nonsense spewed out of Hollywood. Your life and the lives of your family and friends are what make the most difference in your world so center on those things and you’ll be much happier.


Gery L. Deer is an independent  contributor to WDTN-TV2’s “Living Dayton” program. More at gerydeer.com.

Horror author sets December tour in Greene County

In Books, Entertainment, Holiday, Local News, Print Media, Uncategorized on December 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm

howtosaveaworld-bookshot1GREENE COUNTY, OH – Beavercreek author Carl S. Plumer has been a writer since childhood, beginning with his own, single-issue newspaper. Now with the release of his second work of apocalyptic fiction, “How To Save A World From Dying: A Demon Apocalypse Love Story,” Plumer is visiting local bookstores in December to read, sign and talk about his journey from cub reporter to novelist.

Plumer will be visiting two Greene County bookstores beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday December 7, with Dark Star Books, 247 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. On December 14th, from 2-4:00 p.m., he will stop by Blue Jacket Books, 30 S. Detroit St. in Xenia. Each event will include a reading from the novels, question and answer time and of course an autograph session.

The second in his series of, “Apocalypse Love Stories,” his newest novel is a loose collection of stories with different characters, plots, and locations. All share the same mash-up of horror, comedy, and love. Plumer said he wanted to inject some humor in to his favorite genre and, with the first book, wrote the title first, setting the stage for a new collection of horror.

Author Carl S. Plumer

Author Carl S. Plumer

“I’m a fan of horror movies and books; I love getting scared,” Plumer said. “When I first started writing, all of my characters (spoiler alert) died at the end. I think because I couldn’t figure out how to end the story, not because I was trying to write horror.” Plumer noted that there really is an important message he wants to convey to his readers, even amid all of the blood, gore and humor.

“I put my characters into dire situations – apocalypses; as bad as things get. But they rise above extreme adversity with grace, dignity, and a sense of humor. The plot may be adventure with a bit of gross horror, but my message is, ‘Carry on, regardless.’ Chin up, chest out, you know? It’s the British side of my ancestry.”

“Plus, I thought death made my stories seem cool,” he noted. “Turns out horror mashed with humor is where I’m most at home.” His first book, “Mad About Undead You: A Zombie Apocalypse Love Story,” has been on shelves for about a year. His third is planned for July 2014. Plumer’s books are released by Someday Press.

Both of Plumer’s current titles will be available for purchase at the events. For more information on his appearances and a complete synopsis of both novels, visit the author’s website at www.carlplumer.com. Watch for Carl S. Plumer on the WDTN-TV2 daytime program, Living Dayton, at noon, Wednesday, December 4th.

U.S. Stalking economy is likely here to stay.

In Business, Dayton Ohio News, Economy, Media, Opinion, Technology on December 5, 2013 at 12:00 am

DIH LOGOIf you shop online or use social media on a regular basis, you’ve probably wondered how the ads you see seem so perfectly suited to your own interests. That’s because you told them. Really, you did, but it’s unlikely you were even aware of having done so.

Some experts refer to this practice as just another component of today’s ever advancing “stalker economy,” referring to constant surveillance for what you buy, talk about and “LIKE” online. It’s all being monitored by websites and social media pages on which the transaction occurs. The data is collected, analyzed, and regurgitated into useful information and sold to future advertisers.

No longer do advertisers need to track ‘cookies,’ those tiny bread crumbs of data left behind when you visit a website that lay a clean, detailed trail of your online pathways. Instead, they just get the information directly from you – in many different ways.

While there is so-called, “do not track” legislation designed to regulate companies which monitor and customize ads based on a user’s experiences, the laws are mostly toothless. Much of the existing legislation makes compliance voluntary. Plus, if a user does not want to be tracked, the information is still collected but no personalized advertising will be generated. Why even bother having the laws in the first place?

Today’s “stalking economy” is unlikely to change but rather get progressively more invasive and nosey because of the explosion of mobile devices and enhanced cellular communication options. According to the CTIA-The Wireless Association, 89-percent of people living in the United States have mobile broadband subscriptions.

The CTIA’s research shows that, “The U.S. wireless industry is valued at $195.5 billion, which is larger than publishing, agriculture, hotels and lodging, air transportation, motion picture and recording and motor vehicle manufacturing industry segments.”

It might sound like just a lot of meaningless industry trivia until you consider how much goes into its infrastructure and operation. From website and app development to marketing and advertising strategies, hundreds of thousands are employed in the business of keeping you connected to your favorite things. And the advertisers sell to millions that way.

Many experts still believe the mobile and web-based media industries are still just in their infancy! Think of it, just five years ago most cell phones were barely capable of sending a text message, today people can do their banking, video chat with their children away at college and watch the TV show they missed the night before.

Learning to capitalize on America’s obsession with the web has made tracking essential, but still relatively unwanted. Of course there are those who simply don’t care if their online activity is being monitored. If anything, these individuals believe they’ll be of the first to know about a new product or service and be in on version 1-point-0, trend-setting from the ground floor.

Most websites allow a user to opt-out from receiving advertising material, but that won’t stop them from keeping an eye on them. So what’s the good side of the “stalker economy” to the consumer? Over the long haul, consumers are more frequently introduced to products and services they wouldn’t have otherwise known about and in a much shorter time period than would have been possible otherwise.

The consumer also wins because advertising to a highly focused target market will cost less to execute. Since marketing is one of the most expensive parts of selling a product, this will help the merchant maintain affordability.

It’s doubtful that people will ever be completely free from electronic snooping, at least the kind that keeps a running list of our Amazon purchases. But you can do some things to limit what they see. First, read everything; every single line presented to you on a website regarding your account or how your information is used. The rest is due diligence. Keep a running record of websites you use for social media, shopping, whatever. Make sure they have what you want them to have and no more. In any case, it’s up to you to decide how much to put out there. Keep it as little as possible.