Bad English

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A few days ago, I wrote about how “sick books,” represented by a book called “English For You and Me,” is a betrayal of the next generationIn the February 2, 2009 issue of the Inquirer, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus makes a pretty good excuse (if you will) for the errors in the textbook:

“When something like this crops up, we always tell Mr. (Antonio Calipjo) Go that rather than we read it in the papers first – and then it’s like that’s the end of it, he already scored – if you really want to help, talk to the author,” Lapus said.

“Some of (the alleged errors) are poetry so it’s not grammatical. It’s always misleading if you only use one line or a few phrases,” he added.

“It’s like you write a book and then you use my own writings as part of your book to prove a point and then you mix up what you pick up from me. That does not give the complete sense,” Lapus said.

– Report by Philip Tubeza
“Lapus trying to stop go: That’s poetry”
Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 2, 2009

Let’s not get into philosophical rants on Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida: I leave that to the philosophers.  Yet after reading bollocks passed off as “poetry,” I think I know where they’re coming from.  After all, you can play the “so-called error” card these days.  Then again, I’m not an educator, I don’t have Ph.D. credentials, but I think I’m correct when I point these out:

  • “But what is more important is that she lives in a place that, to Celine, is drowned in mystery.” – Sentences should not begin with the word “but.”  Unless mystery is a liquid that causes flooding and death by edema, the proper term is “shrouded in mystery,” not “drowned.”
  • “‘Gem, what souvenir did you take from lola’s place?  I had a dragonfly with a body like jewels and wings like lace,’ said Cindy.  ‘I got a butterfly with flower designed wings.’” – “Body like jewels…” I don’t get it.  I think that there are better similes and metaphors to describe the body of a dragonfly than jewels; or at the very least, use the term “bejeweled.”  “Flower designed wings,” I don’t get it, either.  Flowers do not design wings; the proper term is “wings with flower designs,” or “wings with floral designs.”

“So-called error?”  Hmmm…

I won’t go into the issue of kickbacks or whatnot taking place in the publishing industry; the only pieces of evidence that exists for me to opine, at this point, are the grammatical errors and awkwardly-worded sentences already presented by Go.

Let me outline my disagreements with Sec. Lapus’ arguments this way:

  • Grammatical errors cannot be excused or passed off as poetry.  Even poetic statements should follow the rules of grammar.  Let’s take that one step further: poetry is an application of correct grammar.
  • Once a thought is committed into text, it is no longer under the complete control of the author.  All texts are as much interpreted by the readers as they are messages conveyed by authors.  Let’s put that simply: reading is interpretation.
  • Go, like almost everyone else in this country with a rudimentary knowledge of the English language, has the right and responsibility to point out errors when they see them.  That is part and parcel of the democratic process; it is not “acting like a pontiff.”  Let me put that another way: education is an application of freedom of speech.

What makes this oppressive, in my view, is that all of these things take place in classrooms, where our children are supposed to learn the correct way of doing things.  A good education is the key to economic and social survival; it is that one entitlement that serves as the great equalizer.  Education levels the playing field for all the injustices that take place in the world: it is a way out of the chains of poverty as much as it is a way out of the chains of ignorance.

Yet even something as noble and as fair as education is not without corruption; it is tainted with so much injustice.  Almost every positive attribute of education is offset and weighed down by what makes our educational system so wrong: mediocrity, incompetence, and “sick books,” among other things.

In many ways, the educational system that we have becomes a way into poverty and ignorance.

For all its flaws, English is a way into economic independence and social emancipation.  An above-average grasp of English will get you a job somewhere.  The importance of correct English cannot be over-emphasized in the kind of society we live in, and should not be under-emphasized in favor of making books cheaper, and selling off the future of our children to the lowest bidder.  As a taxpayer, I would rather have expensive books that teach children the correct use of English than to have cheap books that teach children bad English.

I may be a grammar Nazi at times, but in this case, my annoying habit or character trait is not without justification.  Kids go to school because they need to learn the right way of doing things.  The errors presented by Go is the equivalent of teaching kids that 1 + 1 = 3, or that the knee-bone is connected to the elbow.

Proper English is not about perpetuating an employment phenomenon of call center agents and BPO workers.  The fact that our educational system offers English in the curriculum means that the basics of English must be taught properly, so that it would be used properly.  I’m not an English teacher, but I believe that teaching English begins and ends with proper grammar and correct spelling.  Poetic statements can be saved for literature appreciation classes, when students already have an adequate grasp of the rules of English.

One final note:

  • “People are active individuals. Day in and day out, their lives are full of spontaneous activities. They make actions through what we call ‘dreams.’”  – The statement does not make sense.

1 comments on “Bad English”

    • dina
    • February 7, 2009

    how the hell do these get published??????

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