Would you be surprised to learn that texting is affecting the academic performance of America’s youth? Writer Victor Thorn interviewed a university professor who said that "30 percent of his students now use so-called ‘text speech’ in their papers."
What is text speech? It is abbreviated spelling and writing. To cram as much as possible into a text or twitter comment, abbreviations and innovations are frequently used. I’ve found myself doing it when I text.
Effective writing was already in decline prior to the age of texting. According to the professor Thorn interviewed, "The state of education in America changed a great deal after the Vietnam era. Before the 1960s, ...(it was required of students) ... to understand the difference between an adverb and a conjunction. After the 1960s, the important thing was to make students feel comfortable writing anything at all. To a certain extent, English teachers are obligated to not hurt anyone’s feelings in 2012 ... the quality of student work has certainly declined dramatically over the years."
We have had our own experience with this kind of writing. Jenny had a 5th grade teacher in Wyoming that didn’t correct misspellings on writing projects. We would read her paper and say, "You spelled this wrong." She’d tell us it didn’t matter, that it was a writing project and not a spelling assignment, so spelling didn’t affect the grade. Sure enough, we would see the paper returned with a good grade, with no marks on the misspellings. All of our insistence that she learn to spell the words correctly made little impression on her.
So, we visited the teacher. We explained to him our concern for proper spelling. Academic disciplines are related and interdependent. Writing down ideas isn’t simply a matter of putting them down on paper, it is putting them down correctly and coherently. Someday these kids may work for companies that require written reports or letter writing. How will they explain to a supervisor that they never learned to spell?
The teacher understood. He explained that it was a policy to not mark a grade down because of misspellings, but he would begin circling them. That would at least call the students’ attention to their mistakes. Even though I thought that insufficient, it was a help and gave us some extra leverage at home to enforce correct spelling. Jenny didn’t like it, but she listened and learned. Ironically, today she teaches reading and writing. Mmm.
Tech gadgets are a blast. They help us communicate with more people and with greater speed. But, time will tell if they are really the blessing they seem to be. One teacher asked a student in his class what was so important on his iPhone. He said he was going to Hardee’s for lunch, and he was using Google Earth to watch cars go through the drive-thru. That may have been more interesting than the professor’s lecture, but it wasn’t polite and probably not as educational.
Besides being a detraction and encouraging misspelling, tech gadgets also affect the length of students’ written reports. A professor assigned a review of Hamlet. One student’s paper was two words long. Not two pages; two words. He wrote, "Everyone dies." That certainly makes it easy to grade. Incidentally, according to Thorn’s article, frequent texters have lower grades on proficiency exams.
For families, churches and communities to maintain a sense of real-life connectedness, we need ample time to converse face-to-face. We need an abundance of live interaction, with intentional eye contact and long sentences in proper English. We need to shake hands, pat each other on the back, and laugh at jokes. God made us to be social creatures, and we can’t substitute that with miniature screens, abbreviated words and truncated sentences.
How do we know if we are texting too much? Here is a test to tell. If you understand this sentence the first time through, you may be over-texting, and you need to grab a Charles Dickens novel and read it through. Here’s the sentence: "RU txtng 2 much? B4 2 long U may B illiterate 2." Now, let the race to the library begin!