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Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

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

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Excuse me; is that your nose in my business?

In Children and Family, Entertainment, Opinion, psychology, sociology, Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

On "Bewitched," nosey neighbor, Gladys Kravits (Alice Pearce) always got more than she bargained for with her cup of sugar!

On “Bewitched,” nosey neighbor, Gladys Kravits (Alice Pearce) always got more than she bargained for with her cup of sugar!

Fifteen years ago, I was shopping for my first house when I realized I had no idea exactly what it was I wanted. I grew up on a farm with a house smack in the middle of a valley of trees, pasture and corn fields so I was lacking some of the social necessities of being a ‘neighbor.’

I had no idea what it meant to have to “keep up with the Joneses,” and I never saw my mother so desperate for sweetener that she needed to bang on someone else’s door and demand they fill her measuring cup with sugar. I just didn’t get it. And, after a good fifteen years, I still don’t.

Growing up in such isolation taught me self-reliance and a good feeling for minding my own business. Even as an adult, as public as I might seem between my published work, music and television appearances, I tend to be a bit of an introvert. It’s not that I’m unfriendly, quite the opposite, but I just feel like I should keep my nose in my own cupboard and leave others to do the same.

For some, however, that’s not the case. When I first considered a suburban home, I visited several developments and each put me in mind of TV shows of years past. On TV, the houses looked all the same and there was always that one, nosey neighbor who just couldn’t keep off your grass.

Inevitably, I think of Gladys Kravits, the screeching butinsky from “Bewitched,” who spent her day tormenting her happily ignorant husband Abner all about the goings on at the Stevens home across the street. Granted, there were weird things happening on Morning Glory Circle (that’s the street where Samantha and Darren lived on the show), but rarely did those events directly impact the neighbors.

I tend to be an observer of human behavior, which helps me, I hope, to be a good writer. I’ve noticed over the years that the preoccupation of people with the activities of their neighbors can be close to a debilitating obsession.

Constant worry about the concerns of others is, to my mind, ridiculous and kind of neurotic. What if you did nothing all day but ponder such things like … When did John cut his grass – for the tenth time? How did Bob buy that above ground pool when he doesn’t make that kind of money? Do those people have anything else to do but remodel their house every month?

It can get out of control. I’m hoping that level of unwarranted curiosity isn’t the norm but the exception. I would hate to think that my comings and goings were costing a good night’s sleep to anyone but me. That’s not to say that even rural suburbs don’t offer some level of low-brow entertainment of a kind that would even sour Jerry Springer’s sensibilities.

Fortunately, where I finally chose to buy a home turned out to be the perfect fit for me. But I know people who live in suburbs where you can’t make a move without someone commenting on it or having an opinion to gossip about. I’m sure it happens everywhere, but I think people should spend their time worrying about their own lives and stay out of the affairs of others.

If the concerns of those around you occupy your thoughts more than your own actions, it might be time to take a look in a mirror instead of out the front window. Being nosey isn’t the same as being neighborly.

Thoughtful compassion for a neighbor with a sick parent or welcoming a new baby is not the same as feeling the compulsion to always see what’s going on next door. It’s important for people to know the difference and respect those boundaries.

 

Gery L. Deer is an independent business writer and contributor to the WDTN-TV2 show, “Living Dayton.” More at http://www.gerydeer.com

Don’t Believe Everything You Read. Seriously, don’t.

In Entertainment, Local News, Media, Opinion, Politics, psychology, television, Uncategorized on April 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

 

For reasons I still can’t totally understand, many people insist on believing whatever they read on a printed (or digital) page, regardless of how inane or baseless the material may seem. Generally the topic or tone falls in line with the reader’s interests or personal opinions and if it strikes them just the right way they fall for it, bait, hook and headline.

For example, while I appreciate the loyalty of my readers, I always encourage them to explore for themselves whatever topics I present and not simply take my word for it. An op-ed (opinion-editorial) column like mine offers one or two viewpoints about a particular topic but always has a ‘slant’ to it. For the author, the column can serve several purposes.

Some op-ed columnists are simply trying to put a voice to a particular viewpoint and provide food for thought to the reader. Others are doing everything they can to sway public opinion, by whatever means available to them, even by misrepresenting the facts.

Talk radio personalities and television news commentators offer the broadcast version of a written editorial column, usually with a much wider reach and, thus, a larger audience. Broadcast celebrity opinionists (my word for them) have one goal which is to please the advertisers by increasing ratings.

Banging on the desk and yelling, playing sound bites out of context and using as much spin as possible, these over paid blowhards ply the mushy brains of audiences with a lot of self-appointed authority. That authority is false but accepted by the masses, leaving them unable to tell the difference between fact and sensationalism.

Eventually, the Internet provided yet another outlet as audiences took to the computer screen for their news and information. So much pseudo-journalism has flooded the web that many now question the legitimacy and accuracy, not to mention the political slant, of modern news agencies. Take blogs for example.

The word blog is a shortened form of web log. Blogging started out simply enough as the ramblings of disgruntled workers or bored housewives who found an audience for their personal diatribes in the vast wasteland of the information superhighway. Over time, the number of blog followers has begun to surpass broadcast news and print journalism.

Depending on the content, a blog can attract millions of readers worldwide. According to the website InitialTraffic.com, the official blog of The Huffington Post was the most visited blog website of 2011 citing millions of hits for the publication. Other blogs have become mainstream resources, having transformed from op-ed material to news and video content.

Competition for subscribers and high-volume audiences is fierce between media outlets and some will do whatever it takes to keep advertising and subscription revenue coming in. It’s important that readers know the difference between opinion, editorial, news and sensationalist content. But how do you tell the difference?

An article or broadcast story that can be considered ‘news’ will provide the reader with the who, what, why, when and how of a topic, giving you the information without commentary or speculation. An opinion or editorial piece will include conjecture or literally offer the writer’s views in an attempt to slant the story or alter public perception of the topic.

In my columns, I generally cite the facts of a current event, a quote by a politician (in its entirety, so the context is clear), express the concerns of fellow citizens or I will base the work on a historical reference of some kind. The idea is to provide the solid, factual basis for whatever argument I wish to make.

For all of the chatter online, on television and on the radio, your local newspaper, in my opinion, is still your best bet for accurate news coverage regarding events immediately affecting you and your family. Online or in print, it offers a ground-level look at the day-to-day happenings without the ‘noise.’ Whatever your choice for news and commentary, be an informed reader.

 

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