American Newspapers Seem to Have a Death Wish

RottenAppleby Bruce Price   12/10/13
American newspapers don’t aggressively support literacy. That is killing them; and it’s killing us. Wouldn’t you think that newspapers would scream and holler in every possible way to make the public schools do a better job with reading?

Yes, common sense dictates that you would think that. If children aren’t learning to read, where will newspapers get their customers in the future?

Somehow we now have 50 million functional illiterates. Public schools, in general, do a lousy job with the basics: Reading, writing, arithmetic, and foundational knowledge. Even if people can read but do not know where Spain is on a map, they are not likely to be buyers of newspapers. They will lack the background information to make sense of new information.

In sum, all of the bad tendencies suggested by the phrase “dumbing down” are going to impact with special brutality on print media. So why do newspapers do such a lousy job of supporting what is in their best interest? Are they oblivious? Do they like the idea of dying?[pullquote]Even if they have many conservative views, these people would hate to hear themselves called “conservative.” All right, these are just words but you can see how they could make people drift toward supporting their own worst enemies. I think the NY Times tries to make this happen every day.[/pullquote]

One of the big problems we have in our country is that the term “liberal” covers, let us say, a multitude of sins and spins. The bad liberals, as I would call them, are basically communists. And they are now laughing at me, thinking in effect: You fool! Of course we want to dumb everybody down. Ignorant people will not be able to stop us.

But I persist in thinking there are vastly greater numbers of good liberals. People who are idealistic and hopeful, and still concerned with dreams of liberty, what Thomas Jefferson meant by “liberal.” They may be a little fuzzy-minded sometimes because they don’t want to confront how totalitarian the far-left can be. They drift into supporting some far-left ideas because these are described as “liberal.” And good liberals don’t want to oppose other so-called “liberals.”

Even if they have many conservative views, these people would hate to hear themselves called “conservative.” All right, these are just words but you can see how they could make people drift toward supporting their own worst enemies. I think the NY Times tries to make this happen every day.

Ultimately, good education is a rather conservative enterprise because we want to preserve the best from past years and civilizations. Communists always want to destroy everything from the past and start over at Year Zero. That was one of the themes in the novel 1984.

I urge everyone to think about the education you would like your children, and other children, to have. Are you thinking of a good, solid, academic education? I believe this is best for each individual child. And I believe it’s best for the entire society.

Conversely, a dumbed-down education such as that offered in many public schools is devastating for each individual child and for the entire society. Who can argue?[pullquote]Ultimately, good education is a rather conservative enterprise because we want to preserve the best from past years and civilizations. Communists always want to destroy everything from the past and start over at Year Zero. [/pullquote]

I just put a piece on American Thinker called Extra! Extra! American Newspapers Don’t Care About Reading, which deals with these issues. I mention that the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has a pretentious list of principles, for example, “The American press was made free… to bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces of power in the society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government.”

Really?!?

Do you feel that our newspapers are bringing “independent scrutiny to bear” on the Education Establishment? No, they treat it with kid gloves, the same way they treat President Obama. This is not good for our educational system, nor good for our political system.

Well, if this country is going to hell, as some think, the way it happens is that the schools are used to dumb people down so they can no longer tell what hell is and isn’t. I like the idea of saving the country one public school at a time.


Here’s a good introduction to our reading problems: 42: Reading Resources

Bad reading theory now is mainly presented under the phrase “high-frequency words.” Instead of teaching the children phonics, the schools force children to memorize “is” and “run” as sight-words. This is a killer. If it’s in your schools, that’s like finding termites in your basement. For an article about the lie known as “high-frequency words,” see: High-Frequency Lie: Some Words Can’t Be Sounded Out

American Thinker article: American Newspapers Don’t Care About Reading
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Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org
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21 Responses to American Newspapers Seem to Have a Death Wish

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    It seems to me that the term “functional illiteracy” came into being to describe a group of people who passed the standard test for “literacy” (i.e., they completed their schooling) without gaining genuine literacy.

    I would note that much of what you call communism is just leftism in general. Recall how the Jacobins redid measurements, currency, language (“Citoyen” became the standard title, for example), and even the calendar. Some of that (such as the metric system) has remained, but much hasn’t.

    From my experience, I would agree that there are many liberals who still retain a modicum of decency, but can’t bear to be separated from the “liberal” group. This is the sort of person I think of as a “professional liberal” (a term I first encountered in Allen Drury’s work). And I agree with Harry Truman’s observation, “No professional liberal is intellectually honest.” The emotional need to agree with dogma ensures that.

    • faba calculo says:

      I think that the use of BCE and CE in place of BC and AD is a better example of the liberal urge to rename things they don’t like than the metric system is. For someone skilled in both, the metric system is genuinely easier to work with than the current system. The use of CE over AD, on the other hand, is just a politically correct word game. If you’re ever bored and in a mischievous mood, ask someone who supports the use of BCE and CE what happed in 1 CE that made it and the following years “common”. Then stand back and watch them tie themselves in logical knots.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Yes, I’ve noticed that. One might note that AD means “year of the lord”, so I can understand the use of CE by those who (while aware of the importance of Christ) don’t accept his divinity. But no such concern applies to using BCE instead of BC.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Ultimately, good education is a rather conservative enterprise because we want to preserve the best from past years and civilizations. Communists always want to destroy everything from the past and start over at Year Zero.

      This guy “gets” it and isn’t afraid to say so. This is what we used to call a noble American. Plain spoken. Direct. Honorable. Wise. Not just well-intentioned but who gauges the results of his methods as well. Living in the real world instead of the dream world of “good intentions.” God, I find that refreshing.

      Frankly, we are surrounded these days by pansies, girly-men, and people (of any sex) who apologize for mediocrity because they’ve gotten used to acquiescing to nonsense. Such a thing can easily become a habit. Slap the titles of “sensitivity” or “social justice” on top (perhaps even backed by a Pope) and you give these go-alongers all the more cover to be cowards, defenders of mediocrity, and the liaisons of really bad ideas.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Have you ever noted the number of gross grammatical errors in today’s newspapers? How could they support literacy? Television news is even worse. Too many “reporters” can’t put two words together to make a proper sentence. It’s depressing.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Stupid is “in.” I’m particularly annoyed by the nitwits who don’t capitalize proper nouns or the first word of a sentence. And all this stupidity is glorified under the idea of “self expression.” We’ve made being stupid, vulgar, and ignorant “cool.” Nice expression.

      • faba calculo says:

        I think that not capitalizing the first letter of a sentence is mostly restricted to extremely informal communications like texting someone. There even Strunk and White will tell you that the rules are pretty fast and loose.

        The ones that bug me in formal writing, especially in the professional press, is comma and colon usage. How sentences like “He gave Bob one, but not me” or “The three places we went were: Athens, Rome, and Paris” make it past the editors I don’t know.

        Then again, I frequently reread things I wrote for the web later and cringe at some of the errors I’ve made (e.g., “so of the errors” rather than “some of the errors” as I just nearly did), so I can’t throw stones (or at least not that many).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I think that not capitalizing the first letter of a sentence is mostly restricted to extremely informal communications like texting someone.

          Informal communication is not, and should not, be proofread as if you were publishing it in the paper. But I’ve yet to run across one person (besides yourself) who supposed that capitalizing the first word of a sentence was optional. If that’s a new thing, well, I haven’t heard of it.

          When emailing to friends, a lot of sloppy typing slips through. But the point is to communicate, not (at least for me) to turn the English language into a piece of rubber that can be twisted any old way, reducing actual spelling and grammar to a fashion statement (not unlike a bone in one’s nose, if you ask me).

          If one wants to opt for a little flare, then that’s what actual creative writing is for. If one has something unique or interesting to say, then by all means express it. Use the tools at your disposal (the language). One might even try one’s hand at writing dialect (which is far beyond my skills) or the creative use of onomatopoeia.

          But in my opinion, only Cretans junk-up English just to be “cool.” You’ll get no “teh”s from me. No small cutesy lowercase “i”s that look as if they have been perfumed with “xxx”s and “ooo”s. (I cringe when I see a guy write his “i” in lowercase. For chicks, maybe it’s okay.)

          And rarely will you get obscure acronyms. One must have respect for the readers. Writing is not supposed to be some super-secret club wherein others need a decoder ring. That’s why I will sometimes write out fairly lesser-known acronyms such as “Republicans in Name Only.”

          One pet peeve (although this is unfortunately becoming optional) is the use of commas in a series. I insist that the best thing to do is not to emit the final comma. That breeds confusion, and I’ll note that Bruce seems to be of the same mind. Articles submitted to me might automatically find that comma being inserted in any case. 🙂

          Also, and this is a bit of a fine point — but all deft use of English deals in fine points — is to put “only” where it needs to be. There is a difference between “He only needs love” and “He needs only love.” In the first example, only modifies “needs.” A human might be said to require love, or to want love, or to treasure love. But in this case, our theoretical person only needs love.

          The second instance is usually what we are trying to get across. In this second instance, the theoretical person doesn’t need money, fortune, or fame. He needs only love.

          Such small distinctions aid our ability to express ourselves. At the very least, we show we have some respect for our language and are not just a roving dumb-ass.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            One story I read about the problem created by failing to use the last serial comma is someone supposedly making a dedication to “my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” An interesting family tree there — almost as much fun as the character in an Esther Friesner novel who had to do a family tree for school and learned that his mother was actually a demon. Friesner never said what he handed in.

          • faba calculo says:

            “But I’ve yet to run across one person (besides yourself) who supposed that capitalizing the first words of a sentence was optional. If that’s a new thing, well, I haven’t heard of it.”

            Unfortunately, my copy of S&W is at home. I’ll have to consult it tonight to see what it said.

            P.S. While we’re on the topic, thanks for enabling the spell-checker here. I have to admit, it’s saved me from later embarrassment a few times.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Spell checkers are our friend! And, really, it’s made me somewhat dependent upon them.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                This can be very unfortunate when it comes to homophones.

              • faba calculo says:

                Well, they’re usually our friends. I’d used them before, but the first computer I’d owned with a spell-checker was a old, crusty Mac with Claris Works 1.0 installed. I was doing my very first econometrics study on what determines female fertility by country. The rate of infant mortality and the percent of women using modern contraception was clearly significant, but the percent of girls who receive a high school education was borderline, so a fair amount of my analysis was directed there.

                Unfortunately, I smashed the words “high school” together into “highschool”. Recall that checking for words that needed to be split into two different words was a later innovation (this was almost 20 years ago), and – I kid you not – the closest match Claris Works 1.0 could find to “highschool” was “asshole”. Yes, I’m serious.

                Now it was late, and the paper was due the next day, so I was just hitting the “accept” button on the spell-checker without reviewing what was being suggested very closely. It was just luck that I later spotted that I was about recommend to my (female!!!) professor that countries at least consider making sure that their young girls receive an “asshole education”.

                I still have nightmares.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This can be very unfortunate when it comes to homophones.

    What the hell does gay marriage have to do with grammar? Oh…wait a minute.

    Here’s some advanced grammar work, which seems to include a bit of nice nit picking as well: 20 Common Grammar Mistakes.

    But one to keep in mind is the difference (as pointed out in that link) between “since” and “because.” Using “since” in place of “because” is often harmless. But because it is a time word, it will tend to have your reader thinking in terms of time, not cause. So that’s a stumbling block that is easily avoided. We should all read our own writing with an eye to someone who has never read it. Are there little stumbling blocks like (edit: should have said “such as” instead of “like”) this in there that require you to re-read the sentence?

    As for affect/effect, I give up. I rarely get that right. I’m just throwing in the towel on that one.

    • faba calculo says:

      It’s lay vs. lie that kicks my ass.

    • faba calculo says:

      Brad, get an education. “Homophones” don’t have anything to do with gay marriage.

      I’m sorry about that, Timothy. And though I understand what you’re saying about how we communicate, by why the specific mention of how it’s done in San Francisco?

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It was just luck that I later spotted that I was about recommend to my (female!!!) professor that countries at least consider making sure that their young girls receive an “asshole education”.

    That’s a good one. Many times I’ve had the auto-correct feature of my word processor spell out embarrassing or just plain stupid things. Same with auto-complete with the email program. Be very sure who you’re emailing your joke to before you push “send.”

  5. Timothy Lane says:

    The faba calculo horror story about the spell checker (which should be spelling checker, a spell checker being a magical device — at least to a reader of science fiction and fantasy) dealing with “highschool” reminds me of a suggestion that SF writer Arlan Andrews once made: run a Shakespeare sonnet through a spelling checker and take the most humorous proposed corrections. I haven’t tried it myself yet.

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