And self-respecting artists work for free for exactly that, continued self-respect.
Admittedly for this one I did something I don’t usually do, something I am loath to do, base my article off the title of a book featured in the cover photo of another essay/interview, article bypassing the content of the latter almost completely. I guess I’ll console myself that the article was an interview peddling said book and discussing the creative process that lead to its publication, totally on par with part of what I wanted to talk about. Finally spurred into action when I saw that multicolored, eye catching title, it struck such a chord with me because I knew readers were about to read a book review advertising a book, no matter how humorous, how gently they intended to use humor to make one of life’s hard lessons swallowable, discussing one of roughly 3 things; another millennial reality check we can’t all be poets and painters and make a decent living, an honestly long overdue apology to millennials as a generation for calling all of them lazy, stupid, unintelligent, unwilling to work even when they encompass people like Mark Zuckerberg, Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence and those are just the famous names in Hollywood, by no means a complete list either. Or one more person’s adventure into creative professionalism that failed and their book, their appearance on a talk show is an explication of why we should be ok with that failure. It also lines up with things being written about the industry itself, artists, of all stripes, in formerly lucrative mediums, lucrative meaning they can eat and pay rent at the same time, pushing back against unfair tactics robbing them of rightful monies for their work; beyond copyrights, Taylor Swift’s ridiculous war with Spotify, chiefly ridiculous and highly hypocritical because Spotify is not her only money making venture. She has an actual standard recording contract/record label supporting her, allotting her studio times to cut an album, booking venues, arranging tours for her; Spotify actually a late acquisition for her to jump on board with. The ridiculous stupidity that Spotify has yet to turn a profit; agreed, “The truth is, Swift’s decision to pull her albums from Spotify doesn’t affect Spotify. It only affects music fans.” Fact, the music business, with all its options, hasn’t figured out how to promote and reasonably compensate artists; thank you for the succinct summery assessment Daryl Hall. And of course the, looming for decades now, reality that the internet has ‘reduced’ journalism to anyone with a blog, has given rise to multi-million, multi-billion dollar communications entities who are under the mistaken impression that ‘because everyone has a blog,’ ‘everyone is vying for that all important breakout moment, exposure’ they can treat established writers, field artisans the same, by not paying them simply dangling before them the ‘honor’ of being placed in well-known magazine, newspaper X. This combined with growing understanding that the arena of journalism, op-ed writing, even more creative venues, i.e. fiction books, highly successful ones, has been virtually eating itself alive, not just the changing landscape of writing mediums in the digital age, has led to artists ‘working for free,’ not to be confused with creators who can’t find their lucrative niche, didn’t negotiate to get paid, paid enough, the accusation Jennifer Lawrence wrongly leveled at herself and media was all too happy to run with, or choose the right job to earn a wage. Dido with exclusively art, whether you’re doing actual painting or digital variations, it’s bigger than the concrete, immovable truth it’s less versatile, useful than jewelry people can wear, pottery that has more than an esthetic function. It isn’t the newfangled psychology behind the art, the new medium unworthy of a bona-fide artist trying to be a modern Van Gogh; it’s how artists have to alter an intensely personal form of self-expression to get it to sell for money they can actually eat on, be displayed in a gallery for minimal compensation, not in creating realistic replicas of famous works, imitations of say Norman Rockwell or Andy Warhol, but original pieces whose worth should be judged by the public viewing it not art snobs concerned with ‘industry trends.’ Even once upon a time in the good old days they didn’t call them starving artists for nothing. A bright memorable title that struck such a powerful chord with me because it falls into two redundant kvetches that just won’t quit; already allude to the one about millennials, and the longer, ongoing one about education, our ‘failure’ to educate kids to be good at anything, forget excelling at math, science, engineering, technology— try so much as being prepared for a job, having skills in English to master the vocabulary of subject and verb, never mind construct sentences containing one of each, or so stated a commenter on the Salon.com offering titled Death to High School English lamenting students spend inordinate time digesting Hemmingway, Falkner, exc., they don’t have time to hone, passible, sufficient writing skill. Good is out of the students she’s talking about’s league, at least that’s what she thinks wrote, what she thinks she describes as the problem; none of which is true. A phrase, a sentence that resonated so deeply it kick started me into writing this because I knew how hard millennials worked, how hard I worked to get a job, how many obstacles were thrown in my way outside the limitations of my physical disability, outside my, luck and chance driven, choice of would be occupations. Both main reference authors miss key points making their arguments, contributions more white noise; no it’s not ok that people have to paint on the side or be an athlete on the side (I did get around to reading a little of the catalyst article), and identifying yourself, being able to identify yourself as that no matter how ‘successful’ you are or aren’t is poor consolation for something requiring so much effort, so much of one’s self. Ms. Brooks, who bitterly embodies the phrase those who can’t do teach, an educator who can’t grasp, seemingly for the life of her, that writing is an inherent talent to be honed not a skill to be taught, learned the same way you assimilate 2+2, different levels of writing require different levels of skill, lastly academic writing is a sector of writing wholly removed unto itself still; blasting high school writers struggling with 20 page papers, incidentally the ballpark for my college English major capstone senior essay circa 2006, Brooks writing in 2011, that’s excluding the ones today who have moved to a faculty reviewed portfolio and a reflection essay of 3-5 pages. For immediate historical reference, a decade ago when I was completing said college program 20-25 pages was the maximum for an undergraduate final experience essay, 50 for a master’s thesis and 100 for a doctorate. And to be abundantly clear artists have day jobs because they are forced to not because they want to; either convinced they aren’t proficient enough at their passion to make it a profession, convinced their passion makes a great hobby but must get a standard job to survive or, when they dare stand up for the viability of their chosen path to work for them, net the dollars to operate in society, they are called the island of misfit toys in hemp hoodies, the previous generations interpretation of occupy Wall Street.
The Young Turks news anchor (below) exactly right in her defense of millennials against the mocking leveled at them from their own age bracket trying to get in good with older adults, bosses exc. by selling out their generational compatriots, garnering no shortage of the coveted attention while they’re at it. Millennials do want affordable education, crushing student loan debt the larger reason behind ‘crybaby students who majored in Peruvian bongo drums and lesbian dance theory (which are probable classes not majors assuming republicans at Fox News can get anything right) shocked they can’t get a job making 6 figures,’ the compulsion for those 6 figures propelled by the need to conquer their debt, the futile endeavor of trying to do so on a barista salary when the opportunities the former generation said would be there aren’t, aren’t makeable no matter what you majored in, business, marketing, biology seeking lab work, architecture what you do to make yourself productive in a capitalist society. Never mind where else, if not the United States of America, should you be able to study something for the sake of studying it, expanding your knowledge, being enlightened without someone saying you got a degree in a field, topic that doesn’t matter, calling you entitled because there are truthfully hidden values to philosophy degrees, said degree wasn’t how you attempted to get employed doing many activities, internships, holding a job simultaneously to be employment market viable. Millennials want the same opportunities afforded the generation before them they didn’t have beg for, engage in over the top humility to appear deserving of. Millennials want to be paid the same for the same job, not happening in New York just to name one place, where they are being paid 20% less than a generation ago for identical job titles, probably drastically expanded job descriptions, independent of changing with the times, accommodating employers who shortcut hiring workers by adding to existing employees duties, combining jobs in ways that don’t even make sense. Opposite of lazy, many are working longer hours, multiple jobs combatting higher costs of living piled atop incurred debt to be educated, be sought after or meagerly acknowledged by an employer, working for startups and freelance companies that can’t afford to pay their workers yet, giving them options to eventually worthless equity packages; anchor right a 3rd time highlighting those who are employed are overwhelmingly under employed something that goes virtually unreported, assuming they can get a job at all. A note on the unemployed, unemployed doesn’t automatically translate into the usually conjured pictures today of 20 somethings, 30 somethings sleeping/sitting on their parents couches scarfing Funyuns and playing videogames ‘because they don’t like their job prospects,’ though there is that whole when you’ve done all you can do concept. Relating the above realities to art, artists and artisans, writing in my case, I remember how reticent the local chapter of vocational rehabilitation was to consider writing as a goal even from the standpoint of journalism saying they didn’t see it being a viable choice, never telling me why, yet I was the one who walked out of college having graduated cum lade with a degree in English willing to work for anyone with a creative bent offing me a steady wage. I remember the career advice person at the local job placement facility serving the needs of the disabled, who said I was unqualified for the myriad of jobs actually available for want of an internship not one person mentioned me needing, let alone how to get, when I said there had to be a way to get the attention of writing entities, magazines, newspapers, publishers, of dust jackets for books, brochures and the content in them, creators of t-shirt slogans, inspirational, funny blurbs for calendars, writing from anywhere in the world, but certainly the country with an internet connection, and she kept saying ‘you have to be affiliated with a company.’ Instead of oh I don’t know—attached to a publication and then telling me how to get their attention, approach them; it would literally be years later (after clerical training toward a more ‘practical’ job and a stagnation in interviews for those positions) when a new employee housing the same educational background was able to tell me about a letter of inquiry, and job placement people hearing the plight of how I landed where I was, having read some of my work, took pity on me helping to draft one against the ‘orders’ of my VR counselor. I remember a couple more years later after an attempted dismissal from VR, going through advocacy procedures, exercising my complainant rights finally forcing them to look at writing as a possibility for me, the client sitting in front of them, finally garnering informational interviews with the local magazine and one of 2 local newspapers that should have been part of the initial mandated exploration they insisted on before authorizing my schooling. What’s interesting about that is when I went to said interview she didn’t stop talking about the need for an internship, mentioned someone she knew who started out writing the table of contents for Martha Stewart Living but failed to mention they had an internship, forget how to apply, assuming momentarily it was full, when was the best time to apply. Neither did she request any writing samples to ascertain if I had the chops for the career field in which I was expressing interest, remotely entertain she might be able to recommend a place I would fit well in the writing, journalistic community and earn a living. Roughly a year later, another job placement agency also focusing on disability needs in employment, another worker inquiring on my behalf, this time the assistant editor (same magazine) detailing how to apply only for me to put materials together to be told they were currently full; me incredulous on behalf of the worker and the idea they would give false, inaccurate information to someone in such a role, stand out reason it had taken so long to get the information I needed is because had I called as Josephine Schmoe college student I’m interested in, can you tell me about, tell me what I need to do to get a job at your magazine, gain an entry level position in your field, they wouldn’t have taken my call, so much as thought about answering my questions. When you have people, again going back to that job placement adviser who in addition to informing me how unqualified I was, how I needed to be working for a publication, also broached the subject of editing, and when I asked well is it grammar intensive, eradicating typos or primarily picking/choosing articles, overseeing layout, (one I could assimilate quickly; the other not so much) went to her computer and tried to google it. Not say get on the phone with an editor, arrange a sit down with an editor to discuss the lion’s share of their daily job parameters, keeping in mind this was the first time around; when you have job placement facilities who tout their connections to the community, their abilities to service organizations like VR contracting out such work and they can’t even comprehend the statement ‘clout of an office’ and using it to benefit their client, who if they didn’t have an in with an editor at that moment should have been able to pick up a phone and know how to make the inquiry, but she didn’t. When you’re dealing with supposed professionals, industry personnel acting like this, clinging to, hoarding their jobs how are individuals ever going to break into a career field, and I had the help average young people don’t. Most high school, college age and college graduates are SOL, out there on their own, combatting employers who won’t tell them anything, businesses who won’t provide a straight answer to the worker they will need in the near future, but millennials are just lazy, just refuse to work unless it’s under their optimum conditions. No, the remaining lucky ones, extremely industrious ones, adventurous ones go engineer their optimum conditions by starting their own company founded on the work principles they cherish when mainstream employers, college professors exc. tell them their optimum conditions are impossible.
Case in point listen to the story of WeWork founder Adam Neumann; a variation of WeWork a space I could have greatly used (minus the hefty price tag) and providing they furnish computers, internet and desk space sans cutoffs of say the local library. A workspace to use for research into my career when I had no, couldn’t afford home internet, later to present, when my computer suddenly craps out, during college when computer labs were full expanding chances of meeting my career required internship mandate, if only I hand known and it had existed in the listed modified format. Returning to the saga of how I got to the reality that is, wholly unemployed, unemployable, still I remember in the year between being booted from the job placement agency and ultimately VR, before advocacy intervention, awaiting my turn in the financial priority wait hold, having had internet for a while finding a complete list of U.S. newspapers—e-mailing editors with e-mail addresses, digging into my own pockets for printer ink, paper, envelopes and stamps, designing my own inquiry packets and sending them across the country, answering ads on Mediabistro, Craigslist for any job I thought was within my capability. Eventually getting the attention of my current freelance boss for a, pay as he can afford, job producing weekly articles; hey it’s your freelance economy leaving people swinging without a net. I remember 2 years after getting hired, ready to put that line on me résumé to solid paid work after having done everything they (VR, job placement asked, none of it working, including investigating fast food, hotel front desk jobs to discover I wasn’t physically able to meet job specifications) job placement saying you’re going to have to help us because we don’t know how to find…frustratedly thinking, lady if I knew how to do this I wouldn’t need you now would I? I remember right before leaving them permanently asking them for one final thing to make myself successful down the road, considering I had done everything they asked, considering all the mistakes that had been made on all sides, the perfect storm convergence of bad factors, help me put up a Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter profile(s) to advertise myself in a truly freelance fashion to any potential employer who likes the skills I have. Blocked again by another emphatic no, assurances ‘you can do that yourself’ (it doesn’t help to this day I look all of 16 so people believe me a digital native rather than the digital immigrant I most certainly am); which, technically yes, setting up a Facebook page, twitter account and/or LinkedIn profile isn’t hard, but knowing the social media faux pas consequences landing people in jail, derailing careers who reading thus far wouldn’t forgive me for erring on the side of caution? Bringing us to more truisms about employers, jobs and dreaded millennials, negative employer habits of posting jobs almost exclusively on digital arenas like twitter, Facebook cutting themselves off from entire swaths of millennials (AKA optimum age workers) who don’t do social media because they feel it is an invasion of their privacy; personally I will never get a Google mail exc. account precisely because my phone number, cell or landline, is none of their business. Latest job trend researched by the John Tesh radio show, bypassing presumed older workers using Hotmail and Yahoo e-mail services believing them not up on modern technology; does said trend likewise extend to smaller e-mail included ISPs, say Socket, operating in rural areas, people trying to get out of Podunk middle of nowhere, BFE, we hope not. Further disconnected from qualified, capable workers of any age because you’re not putting your job ad where people standardly look for a job, have found their best job leads i.e. the local newspaper, relying too heavily on industry, category, type specific job boards even advertising entry level positions ideal for college grads holding a newly minted degree in X, where most field exclusive job boards are more utilized by established professionals, but again millennials are just lazy, clueless about how to function in the real world and artists couldn’t be a bigger group of flighty, pipe-dreaming airheads if they tried. For the thousandth time here alone no, it isn’t that we don’t know the long history of artists, musicians, poets, fiction classic writers, essayists vastly un and underappreciated in their time, who died broke and penniless, turned to alcohol to sooth an unfulfilled life, their work now studied in k-12 English classes, equally staples of k-12 music classes, music appreciation courses (Jill Sobule’s Heroes running through my head); it’s that we are poignantly aware of the ones, a mere short years before us, who made it. Our art, in whatever form, is all that we have to give to the world, to try an eke out a living; ignored, by the ‘do something’ crowd Mike Row, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller sorts, is so many youth today are getting degrees in the creative ‘useless’ things they are because it is consistently what they’re good at, where their talent lies, ironic coming from the mouth of a comedian, political pundit regularly on TV and a guy who ‘does things’ mostly bitching about uninterested young people when appearing on their shows. For this reason we’ve taken a stand that art be given its due and rightful consideration even among a capitalist economy; what we want is for our efforts to matter, for our endeavors to generate our own opportunities to count in our estimation of worth as a generation, never mind as individuals, actual people you should get to know rather than judging from afar. We want due consideration and legitimate proposals to be given the same weight as everything else you approve daily in the context of new businesses, building projects subject to inevitable failure, despite the high percentage failure rate; tell us why are we not allowed to fail on the same scale, offered the same slim chance to succeed because it’s art? If millennials could imprint one thing on their older generation detractors, accusers and mystified family, co-workers, random grumps screaming in the street, it would be please don’t say we don’t work because we don’t get paid; surpassing marked good coming out of philanthropic, volunteer activities people fill their time with, money isn’t the sole expression of effort expended, quality of product or service rendered. Please don’t look at the nap, game and snack rooms in startups and think we’ve got it made, it’s all we have for the incredibly long hours and the high chance of failure even within the tech world, please don’t say we chose our art, whichever facet, because we wanted to avoid work. Please don’t say I don’t work because I don’t get paid; I work for one of those freelance, starter entities that dreams of the day it can pay it’s writers for their content (my boss constantly telling me I don’t write the things that generate revenue). I work incredibly hard at my job because I love it, I see value in it; I think my boss would be shocked at how many hours a week it takes to do what I do as well as I do it. And in the freelance economy you’re always on; there are no weekends, holidays, vacations. I don’t have time for my poetry, fanfiction, to experiment with alternate types of writing because this, the commentary I do, takes all my time; it’s publish article, take a few hours to recall your name, catch some sleep, start all over again for next week, in between searching video, newsfeeds, watching news broadcasts for topics. Please don’t say what I do doesn’t have merit, value because I don’t get paid; career wise I chose wrongly because I don’t get paid. They (VR, job placement) didn’t see viability in my elected career path because they didn’t want to see it, knew nothing about it and weren’t interested in finding out, even if it meant gainfully employing a client exceeding program parameters and expectations. There is no reason jobs, noting the works I write, my obvious political leanings, at places like Salon.com, Salon media group, The Nation, The Atlantic (no I haven’t currently applied; more on that later) weren’t at least looked into, presented to me as options, if it was a case of credentials and qualifications, then presenting me a possible path of lower level jobs to that goal, assuredly no excuse after a 2 year résumé filler except they didn’t want to; simply, I don’t get paid because no one will pay me for what I do best.
While we sympathize with a sobering assessment of the ‘classics’ which should no longer be named thus (a big sigh of relief for high school in the late 90’s and college in the early 2000’s content with referencing them over reading them) There should be something inherently wrong about hearing Ms. Kim Brooks’ several page complaint; astute members of the comment section right on the money when they accuse her of conflating several issues, grammar, syntax, linguistic pronunciations stemming from culture and region, style, composition, spelling into one central problem: kids not learning grammar and writing, the 2 things interchangeable to her, at any early stage and no, last ditch though it may be, effort to do so in high school. Result, that when she gets, she said it herself, “the average high school student, the student who is college-bound but not particularly gifted in letters or inspired by the literary arts,” for the, quickly pointed out, remedial college English precursor to comp 1 or comp 2 general education requirements at liberal arts colleges, state universities, community colleges she has to work harder to teach them, can’t believe what they don’t know or understand. Upset because she has to take on people who were never meant to be writers, who were/are never going to write the next great American novel, don’t know how to compose poetry and slog them through the rigors of college composition used nowhere but college on their way to wherever they are going. Hardly the biggest, most egregious fault line in her argument even taking a backseat to, because she is teaching at the college level only had to garner a masters in English lit, creative writing, maybe linguistics, though the framing of her argument makes that unlikely, on the outskirts a PHD in any of the above (no small feat mind you), yet lacking the education courses required for any k-12 teacher which should at least include one class lecture on brain wiring, the trends you see in talent expression that falls generally into 1 of 4 categories. Likes math hates English, hates math likes English, does poorly in all things academic but has exceptional skill, interest in a practical area, cooking, child care, health and helping professions, takes welding, car care as high school electives in preparation to be a mechanic, the Charles Shultz types who barely passed in school but went on to create the famous Charlie Brown comics; students whose best grade is in a general art class, specific electives jewelry making, pottery, photography, videography—oh. Finally the learning disabled student whose natural talents are hampered by dyslexia or other learning abnormality, people who don’t pronounce words well due to an auditory processing disorder, dyslexics famous for doing poorly in math and English because they transpose letters and numbers, it’s hard to read when things are backwards and or jumping all over the page when you look at it. Never debated, discussed how teachers can take what we’ve learned over the years about brain wiring, how people process things, student expression of skill, aptitude for either subject and use their inborn talents to fine tune teaching them their weakness. Why writing assignments for my friend’s son’s second grade class don’t encompass more options, 2-3 writing prompts for the kids who need a little help, a write whatever you want using the grammatical device asked for in the homework, class project choice for future writers, the kid who saw the assignment and immediately began daydreaming about what they wanted to do and a write say 3 factual statements using the grammatical device opportunity for the kids who don’t think creatively, haven’t found, tapped into their creativity yet so they can still practice grammar effectively. Highlighting another fallacy in Brook’s complaint, usually these persons do well with the grammar, punctuation, mechanics aspects of English; it’s merely the creativity they lack. But the most asinine of her assumptions is that grammar is easy, is relegated to subject and verb, the fact that they should agree, that the most complex sentence students, people will ever write goes: The dog ran; the dog ran across the street, if you’re lucky they add to catch the ball, when there isn’t much that could be further from reality. Of course if that’s the extent of the sentences your write, somewhere between a 3rd and 6th grade level, you’re going to think grammar is easy. College level writing demands something more like these, “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed,” added to this, “I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness.” Or that people possess no comprehension of spelling and grammar rules because they are in incomprehensible miasma of, no matter who says otherwise, utterly illogical guidelines, parameters and contradictions with a healthy side of endless expectations—‘and if this is like this, then it’s not the original, but subsection usage four hundred and twelve;’ remember i before e except after c or when sounding like a like in neighbor and weigh, one among so many? Spelling insanity best demonstrated in the following 2 sentences, Read rhymes with lead, and read rhymes with lead, but read and lead don’t rhyme, and neither do read and lead, “Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.” For bonus points try to read this one without laughing; “I see,” said the blind man as he picked up the hammer and saw.” then there’s punctuation surpassing beginning sentences with a capital letter and ending with a punctuation mark, pay close attention to this mind blowing explanation of the coma splice; “I was pondering why people have so much trouble identifying comma splices when I started browsing through a new book that had just arrived in the mail. Penguin sent me a copy of Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences, and it had a short, half-page section that answered the question perfectly: He points out that it’s exceedingly common for authors to put a phrase after a comma, and that’s not an error. It’s good writing style. A phrase is fine after a comma, but a lone clause is not; and many people (even English majors) don’t know the difference between a phrase and a clause.” Note not because they are inattentive derelicts, rather because of what the grammar blogger expounded on next; “Those parts that come after the comma are all phrases, participial phrases to be exact because they contain a participle—which is something that looks a lot like a verb, but isn’t. The important thing to note is that none of those phrases can stand alone as a sentence.” (See link below for examples) And Ms. Brooks wonders why we’re all confused regardless of what decade we were born in, which era we received our education during. A perfect time to dispel another simplicity in the truth grammar vocabulary changes throughout education, to say nothing of through the decades; who remembers subject and verb becoming subject predicate, it’s no longer a conjunction it’s a coordinating conjunction, it’s no longer an adverb it’s a conjunctive adverb, words ending in ing merely explained thus are suddenly called gerunds (good luck correctly pronouncing that) ; problems perfectly illustrated by the following comment except, “…Yesterday, my 13 year old said, ‘I have an English test on subordinate conjunctions.’ What on earth, is a subordinate conjunction,’ you may ask? Well, it is impossible to figure out using an educated guess. The word is too obscure…” Professors, the same professors who are issued interdepartmental memos on relating to their incoming freshman students that say things like they’ve always had barcodes on cans or, “For this generation of entering college students (graduating class 2016), born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead, Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty,” Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds, The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them, Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge, They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes,” need to check current grammar vocabulary with their students before they call them lost, bitch they don’t have the vocabulary to talk about grammar. Forgoing the people educated in the decades commenters advised us to get back to when teaching, re-teaching current generations, whose comments are littered with as many typos, bad logic, syntax and word choice errors as any atrocious high school student daring to agree about ‘kids today.’
To say nothing of all the trends in English grammar that have been galvanized into rules of English grammar by blue haired teachers, who got it from their blue haired teachers going all the way back to John Dryden’s harping at William Shakespeare, how we got ‘don’t end a sentence with a preposition.’ Or the actual origin of grammar books i.e. a single 18th century guy who “knew little Latin, less Greek (two root languages for many words making it into English vocabulary) owned no books, had no educated friends to run his ideas by” and openly admitted to basing a fair smattering of his guidelines almost solely on personal tastes. “We would also correct the kids’ grammar (mostly “-ly” for adverbs) at the table, and they got so used to it that they would shout out “ly” whenever someone used an adjective for an adverb. Did it in class one day and presto!, another teaching opportunity: it’s not about respect. It’s about modelling.” All the offense in the world to that guy and his attempt to better his kids, why because an adverb not ending in ly is known as a flat adverb and is perfectly acceptable to English grammar just not grammar Nazis and their teachers. The spit infinitive shouldn’t exist because English doesn’t have an infinitive verb from, that’s French. But let’s blame TV, the fact that today’s students don’t read (because twitter memes, Facebook posts and more substantial works fanfiction, blogs on every topic don’t count) so of course they don’t write well, newfangled and bad teaching methods, touchy feely social promotions concerned with self-esteem, not the flaws in the language itself. Flaws perpetuated by the keepers of languages and their preferences for how it should be; just ponder the following, “…We use “aren’t I” because grammarians will not permit us to say “amn’t I” – which would be correct – so we create a right-sounding construction to fill the hole in the language. English has need of repair, but English teachers will not permit repair to happen. For example, spellings for: taught, bought, fight. Silly apostrophe rule for it’s/its. A/An: why? Silent E: WHY? Not to say that we should change such things: if we did, we’d have to treat older English text as we do Middle English. But many of the rules exist because they exist. Amn’t I right?” Something the commenter missed, and that if spoken language remained in the 200 plus year lag written language has been held in; we would all sound like we were reciting the King James Bible. Despite the above, hosts of the populous ascribe to the following summery solution, “The Problem Is Lack of Nuns. Want your kids to learn to read and write coherently and competently? Forget that touchy-feely “free to be you and me” and “best guess spelling” bullshit. Let a coven of nuns smack the shit out of them in grammar and middle school every time they make a mistake. Works for math, science and languages, too.” (Really, to quote the Eminem lyric—my English teacher wanted to funk me in junior high; thanks a lot next semester I’ll be 35.) Leading to follow up issues like this; “I suppose the most successful teachers do find a way to make learning interesting, if not fun. My daughter had a good start at learning to write with a Kindergarten teacher who had them writing all the time–daily journals and little stories. It didn’t matter, in the beginning, that there were mistakes and these early writings were quite good, I thought. Then came learning to do it right. There were state guidelines, and the kids were given certain rules to follow. My daughter’s writing became less interesting– repetitive, and formulaic.” For a recap kids ‘educated’ the way commenter one wants them educated are psychologically damaged, (attested to by young men who ran into their nun teacher later in life), possibly permanently physically injured, at the very least prone to knuckle arthritis, scared shitless to make a mistake to the point of becoming neurotic, convinced they can’t do English, math, write; natural talent, creativity and the hopes of a rewarding career gone, but they know their grammar, yay! Thank god I wasn’t educated that way or I can unequivocally say I would have been a suicide case by 5th grade; usually in middle and high school grades for papers, prominent in English and history, received 2 grades one for content/composition, style, creativity, fulfilling aspects of the assignment and a separate one for grammar, punctuation, bibliographical citation. Though I do remember a 9th grade assignment where we were asked to talk about ourselves 2 positive aspects and one we would like to improve, warned not to being the first sentence paragraph with ‘the one I would like to improve,’ trying something with flare and getting a letter grade minus while the guy next to me used the very no, no line and got a solid letter grade, confused based on what the teacher said she wanted, proving just how subjective such things are. Regardless, this allowed me to get good grades, secure an opportunity to go to college, while my mind grew, my reading frequency and aptitude increased, seeing how sentences were constructed in books; television a boon to my creativity and their narrators another source of organizing words well. I began to understand grammar when I took college comp partly because I think my brain had matured to the level it could assimilate the information and my college professor actually made it make some sliver of sense; he was able to cover common mistakes and how to overcome them, diagnose a classmate writing like she spoke, which gave her insight into how to stop repeating mistakes, things Brooks simply can’t do. What people don’t know about me, until now, is I was able to pronounce big words like anesthesiologist off of television at age 4, cull the meaning of words, far exceeding my age or grade level, from sentence/conversation context, though I got just passing grades in elementary school across the board, I was making up stories by talking to myself before I was old enough to write, by the time I was in second grade I was trying to write Star Trek episodes and was always writhing something (very grade level attempts to be sure) by 5th grade I was angling for my personal best of the longest story I’d ever written and still have the ‘children’s book level story I started back them (unfinished and will remain so), by 10th grade I had discovered song lyrics and they flowed out of my like water, a precursor to the poetry I would spend the next summer delving into. My junior year a teacher entered a poem I’d written into a newspaper contest, offered me a chance at a writing workshop I turned down, my senior year I avoided the college prep comp and grammar class and opted for English communications, which included weekly reading a magazine or newspaper article creating and answering 5 questions and writing commentary on our reading (thank you Ms. White) the unofficial birth of my commentary and what I went back to when developing my portfolio. By the 8 week end of college comp 1 I had honed a grammar foundation I still use, by the end of my collegiate career had garnered an ease with poetry and discovered a knack for the short story. Translation there would be something wrong with the universe if I hadn’t become a writer; others don’t have that obvious talent history. Brook’s commenters get it wrong too (see article end notes for comment reference); please don’t say I don’t write well because I didn’t write what you expected. She, like me, wasn’t writing an academic paper, something for professional scrutiny; she was writing a personal narrative, firsthand experience piece the kind of which Salon likes to publish. Here’s why, barring some emergency where I suddenly have to find a new way to make money fast, I am content to write for free I currently set my own hours, choose my own topics and write as short or as long as I want; I won’t get into arguments with editors about (what the newspaper guy said to me short and punchy) versus long and complex, when the selling point of my brand, what little there is, is as long as it needs to be to covey the point, moving beyond the sound bite, giving people relevant and engaging material to where they don’t mind the length. And if The Atlantic can produce 12 pages on The coddling of the American Mind at the colligate level before listing the entire range of thought disorders mentioned and brief descriptions why can’t I, in a blog space where column inches are no longer a factor?
I won’t get into a mindless tug of war with those same editors about less versus fewer murdering variety of language, great oratory for the sake of nuances between Chicago manual style, AP style, MLA style, entire paragraphs they think should be eliminated to ‘give it more punch up top’ or whatever it is this week, sweeping away with it integral facets to a larger theme also known as the purpose for writing the damn thing in the first place, contending with the ghost of their insert grade level English teacher here—while I’m at it. I will keep the integrity, dignity of my work whole and intact as well as my self-respect, pieces of my soul will not be evaporating with things I allowed to be gutted from good articles for the loved of getting published and paid at the same time; I love where I am right now and am glad I found it when I did precisely because looking at options out there for money, I’m not working for peanuts completing what seems to be high school or college homework, nervous about can I do content writing, worried I’ll screw up my freelance reputation because I’m doing something for the first time. I just know it could have been so much more if the people earning paychecks to help me had done what they were supposed to, what their job descriptions dictated they do, if writing hadn’t been taboo and wrong to the ‘mainstream.’ In Utter contradiction to Brooks are the people who find they enjoy, are at minimum competent, in both reading and writing when it is not foisted upon them, when they are not limited to what exactly they are allowed to read or write, can find their niche, interest in both areas and operate within it. My friend who was LD made it through 99% of her k-12 education before being diagnosed dyslexic, when the writing bug hit her wrote everything in script form to profoundly perplexing looks from her teachers but her writing improved to functional and she keeps a personal journal, has written countless poems; going to show you should never count anyone out. Providing additional perspective is a CNBC article dated 2 years after Brooks’ work Why Jonny Can’t Write and Why Employers are Mad showcasing a business industry just as inarticulate as the young Jonny architype about what they need and how to get it from incoming business school graduates; a consultant brought in to improve young business moguls communication skills focusing on persuasion, marketing not, they thought, comas and semicolons, the 3 R’s. Supplemental surveys revealing, despite their complaints about writing, soft communication skills, what they believed would help is more experience; what you want to bet when business schools reached out to similar companies for examples of acceptable, excellent business proposals, persuasive memos, other business level correspondence to stay relevant they were turned down flat citing intellectual property? Underscoring commenter philosophy high school is exactly the wrong time to assess the be all and end of a person’s writing ability; an odd practice for those always contending leaning should go beyond the classroom, be a lifelong journey. Yes most of us write like crap; bewildering is when 80, 90% indicated otherwise, their college majors in totally opposite directions. But if you are an established media, journalistic, communications entity and you find something you believe is worthy of publishing under your banner, in your medium then you should pay for it; to that end writhing deserves it’s due under viable employment choices. Halting people coerced into working for free because they need the line on a résumé more than they need to get paid, they need to expand their portfolio more than they need to risk pushing for money if they want any chance of earning in the long run, people building a work history a pattern of published material in a steady paycheck offshoot who need those notches on their writing belt more than dollars in their pockets to further their career; other reasons why people work for free in the arts. A Shout out to the do something crowd; writers can be used to prevent this: Medical Office, Efficient Medical Front Office Person or Medical Assistant to work as a “float” in front office, medical records and clinic in a busy specialty office. Must be professional in attire, mannerisms, have excellent phone and personal customer skills and can handle multiple duties. Computer and electronic medical records experience a plus. Mon-Fri; no evening hours. Send cover letter, salary requirements and résumé to BBP” Turn that dysfunction into this effective job ad; Efficient front office person or medical assistant to work in specialty clinic. A float position with duties including front office tasks, medical records and clinic functions/check-in. Must be professional in both demeanor and attire, have excellent phone/customer service skills, ability to multitask. Computer and electronic medical records experience a plus. Mon-Fri; no evening hours. Send cover letter, salary requirements and résumé to BBP. And I was willing to do just that as a job except it wasn’t available; simultaneously when I contacted all those newspapers I got no shortage of non-replies, automated messages, we only hire locals, keep us in mind if you ever move here, love the edgy voice of reason wish I could hire you can’t afford you, meaning I had no shortage of recognizable talent just no feasible opportunity. Interesting when Mr. Aborishade (try saying that 3 times fast) stands outside Patriots property holding signs about what he can offer the team on the field, he’s applauded for his perseverance; it doesn’t hurt that his name probably means he immigrated to the United States or is a first generation born U.S. citizen. Still everyone else we would cheer their tenacity; Ms. Toorpakai forced to dress like a boy to play Squash in her native middle eastern country gets a pass even though it’s sports considering the repression she come from. But a writer trying to pursue their dream, turn a viable profit from their craft, a painter willing to paint things for offices taking less money than the high priced stuff in magazines labeled office art or accessories, piffle. Final video above features an animation school specifically teaching people with autism, because it is extremely detailed work, at which people on the spectrum tend to excel; further because it is helping people with autism be productive in the world no one cares. Be a regular person getting a degree in animation and you embody the saying coined by Bill Maher “we can’t all be the painter on the cave wall;” forget nothing short of global apocalypse would prevent movie making, entertainment production. Not even the depression in the 1930’s, in fact, movies like The Wizard of Oz provided a much needed escape; an escape we could use again right now. Artists and artisans aren’t flighty wastrels, they all have something to give if you let them; oh and women apologize a to inanimate objects for bumping into them out of respect to the people whom the objects belong, not because they are socially wired to be meek, demur and say sorry regularly and spontaneously.
You’re my best C student
For someone so concerned with composition I found this piece lacking in some major aspects. I’ve broken them down in assessment form, so they might be more palatable.
Thesis: Your headline claims a big “Death to High School English”, yet your piece does not actually develop this point. The point your piece develops is that grading your student papers takes time, and that it simply isn’t realistic that High School English teachers take time for composition given the teaching load.
Historical Grounding About once every six weeks there is an article about the deplorable level of High School English. This is usually written by privileged, bourgeois intellectuals who themselves excelled in English and have internalized the Enlightenment narrative of literature as a form of personal edification or Bildung. The fact of the matter is that you have no basis for your assessment. Did you read papers of your fellow high school students 15 years ago who didn’t do well? Did you read high school papers from students 40 years ago? Have you considered looking at your own high school papers? I think you’ll be pleasantly appalled.
Outside Sources: You leisurely talk about the concept of composition as if there is not theory behind it. As if this isn’t a field people have been working on for the past fifty years. Why is it that for your blog post about composition you don’t consult outside sources, but the other salon blog posts about anything else there are sources? (See www.salon.com) Is it because you don’t care for composition theory, or do you simply not know anything about it?
Analysis As someone who teaches at a large urban university, I agree there are writing issues at the college level, but you conflate them. You throw structure, style, grammar, and argumentation into one giant lump. Problematically, most language acquisition happen from about age 5 to age 8. Meaning, that idiosyncratic grammatical inflections are the result of the socio-economic status of the home more than anything a teacher does. Simply put, time and time studies have shown that you cannot teach grammar at the college level. I realize your counterargument will be, “but my kids learn grammar all the time, I’m awesome at it.” Sadly, your personal experience does not count as actual evidence. See the sources section above.
Furthermore, argumentation cannot be taught abstract of a context. You cannot simply teach someone to “argue”, they need to argue about something. While Freshman comp, can propose artificial arguments, it is really the point that the individual college fields develop argumentation in their discipline.
Conciseness You spend so much time talking about yourself that very little space is left for an argument. I know it must crush you to hear this, but your personal writing narrative is irrelevant to actual sound pedagogy. So while it might be interesting that you chose Melville over Meth, it is about as useful as defensive driving lessons for Daisy Buchanan.
Great Job! Keep it up! This piece has a lot of potential, but at some points your writing is getting in the way of your argument. Still, I really like the way you found your voice in this, very brave. Also, I would focus on style a bit more.