Thursday, May 3, 2007

Six Butterflies Flap their Wings in Newark. . .

. . . and you get a dirt devil on one plane of the blogosphere.

Not to get all Glenda Goodhug on the situation—as I believe in the potential of learning from discord and dissension—but I hope that cooler heads will prevail from this point forward.

I want to thank all of those who have joined in on the conversation sparked by what I incorrectly assumed was an innocuous classroom task on Wednesday. I also want to thank Matthew Baldwin from Defective Yeti for managing the surprise attack of compliments and solicitations for blog advice. I didn’t consider that so many students would choose the same blog to comment upon. Nor did I assume that their comments would resemble one another’s and a template of “blog-whoring” (thank you, Dorothy, for the term) besides. We now have a perfect backdrop for our discussion about rules and constraints specific to the genre of blogging, and I’ll get to use the term “discourse community with the advantage of having a real, meaty example to demonstrate the concept. I will certainly encourage more fervently that future classes make their comments more substantial and that they wipe their grammatical feet at the door before entering such a well-kept den of blogging. Live and learn.

For the most part, as a teacher of English composition, I understand blanching at poor observation of grammatical rules, and I think that the lesson the 109.02 students will learn—I hope—is that care should be practiced in all writing acts, for fear of turning others off with our syntactic halitosis. However, it has been my experience that some folk in online communities use debasing a poster's grammar to suffice for rebuttal of the ideas proffered in the post (not necessarily true here). I also find the impulse of pointing out grammatical errors on online communication to be quite bullying in most cases—an attempt to kick virtual sand in the faces of the 98-word weaklings. (Mind you, I’m not accusing those who are posting on Genuine Drafting of this aim; the ensuing dialogue may be a “sizing-up” measure, but there’s no need to involve Charles Atlas). And while I enjoyed spazmatic’s analogy,
However, typing like "wow ur post was awesome comecheck mine out" is the rough equivalent of walking into a restaurant wearing nought but your birthday suit, placing your feet on the table, and then flagging down a waiter with armpit flatulence. Okay, I exaggerate, but it's still rude and a great way to make people stop caring.

the difference is that for the crude diner to stop being offensive to those around him, he need only don a sweat suit, pull his feet down, and get his hand out of his musical armpit. For those who have yet to navigate with great success the choppy seas of Strunk & White, the task is far more time-consuming and arduous. Most of us who have had the privilege of being exposed from the start to “proper” construction take for granted the commitment and, really, immersion in writing and reading needed to master the handbook’s rules. So tired have I become of hearing coprolites bemoan improper usage as if the offender had just torched their Diagnosis: Murder DVD collection. For those of us who have long forgotten, I’m happy to assert it with tongue planted firmly in my cheek here: WRITING GOOD AIN’T EASY.

If it were, I’d be out of a job.

It smacks as elitist, I think, to deride one’s grammar without offering any advice or explanation (I’m sorry to say that there are examples of this in the comment trail on Defective Yeti). I, the flippin’ composition instructor, honestly am flabbergasted by the impulse to call out someone’s usage. And I would like to add, speaking to Dorothy’s and April’s thought-provoking comments about Netspeak, that from what I’ve seen, the comments my students left here are emblematic of comments we often see on MySpace or Facebook, where no one seems to be overly concerned with proper usage. I am keenly interested in how communication in these venues will affect our grammar in other texts we write—although I believe the significant difference between the students’ comments on DY and the entries in the students’ own blogs suggests that there is an awareness of genre, or at least of being graded.

The best we, the neophyte bloggers of the 109.02 class, can offer is to say that we are working on it—and boy are we ever. I’ve been as pleased as Punch with the effort these students—many of whom plan to write as little as possible for their careers—have put into all aspects of this class (a lot of reading and writing to complete in 10 weeks, although maybe not as much as in a 600-level course). There was a little less effort in these particular comments, some of it attributable to my lack of detailed direction of what exactly it was I wanted. The truth here, I believe, is that more time and care in the crafting of the original comments probably would have circumvented much of the chatter that followed.

But, oh, think of the learning opportunity we all would have missed.

14 comments:

Spazmatic said...

You bring up a very interesting, and important, distinction. Some of the student blogs are very impressive, though I'll refrain from pointing to any in particular. I'm personally impressed with the disproportionately high effort exhibited. It's certainly more effort than I ever put into a 100 level course (except, perhaps, public speaking).

Some of the posts really seem to be products of love and care.

That's why it's so disappointing when the same care is not shown when composing an addition to someone else's library. It's not that your students can't write well, but that they chose not to do so.

No one expects perfect grammar. You can certainly find dozens (hundreds?) of errors in my posts (though I prefer to call them stylistic flourishes or, em, creative spellings). But, well, I guess... Just as I agree with your initial assessment, I disagree with the latter half or your post. To have your students trot out Strunk and White for a blog comment, while awesome, would be rouhgly equivalent to wearing coat and tie to Denny's. All we asked was for them to dress in appropriate daily wear, the type that wouldn't cause undue embarssment outside their own homes.

I hope I don't come across as deriding their grammar, because that is not my intention. As I tried to make clear from the beginning, I'm irked about the lack of effort. On the Intarwebs, our presentability is partially defined by our use of language. C'est la vie.

Also, I disagree that much blame can be assigned to the assignment or instructions. This is a matter of personal decision making. Do I post something decent, or make an arse of myself?

Case in point, don't post like Spaz. :D

P.S. Is there a syllabus or reading list somewhere? I'm curious as to what constitutes supplementary reading for the blogosphere.

le leslie said...

I stumbled on this post through Defective Yeti. Your metaphor featuring the diner was well crafted but only loosely applicable to less-than-intelligent internet speak. The difference is that one is accountable for their actions through one of the strongest forces known to society-embarrassment. On the internet, we lose that self consciousness. Being excruciatingly puerile becomes easy (in my case, easiER). Anyway, I enjoyed this post, and without further ado-ur post was awsum. u should read mine lolz.

Dorothy said...

Back when I was teaching some (cough!) years ago, the differences between "Edited Standard English" and "casual English" were just beginning to be recognized, as opposed to, say, the kind of "One must always speak properly or be labeled a fool!" BS that I was taught when I was a kid. (There's a really good reason why people of my generation often *hated* their English teachers.)

I found it helped to use a sports analogy that I picked up from one of my professors:
1) Certain minimum rules apply across the board, or you're not playing the game. You (generally) can't pick up a soccer ball and run with it and still be playing "soccer". If you don't understand the minimum rules, you should probably stay out of pick-up games. (If you don't follow minimum rules of English, you aren't communicating.)
2) Certain places have different house rules, and certain groups have special team rules, also. If you don't know the local rules, watch for a bit and see if you can pick them up. (If you're not sure what dialect is appropriate, read some comments first and respond in kind. If no one is using pure netspeak, you probably shouldn't.)
3) If you're still lost, ask for help.

Jane said...

Hi John,

I stumbled across this site through Defective Yeti, and I must say your course seems pretty interesting for a 1st year English program.

I have been blogging for about 10 years now, although I have just recently put my main blog on hold (http://thewilt.pitas.com). I also had to write an assignment a few years ago for a course I was taking on the history of blogs, which may interest some of your students -- http://historyofblogs.blogspot.com

Anyway, just wanted to say Hi!

Helen said...

"The comments my students left here are emblematic of comments we often see on MySpace or Facebook, where no one seems to be overly concerned with proper usage."

I am by no means a grammar stickler, I just wanted to weigh in here.

I think of MySpace as the equivalent of meeting someone in a nightclub with the music blaring. Not a real great place to have a conversation, but you can try. So the rules are lax.

Facebook, on the otherhand, is a very extensive college-campus collection of cliques, and slang use depends on who you talk to. Some of facebook is pretty freakin' clever.

I think a lot of watch-your-language-on-the-internet critics are reacting to use of abbreviation and punctuation. If someone is substituting "u" for "you," it isn't because they can't spell, but (to me) it indicates that they didn't take a lot of time thinking about what to write. I try to look beyond that if I think I'm not being fair, but that's my gut reaction.

norabarnacle said...

It sounds like you will be able to use this situation positively. It would be a shame if it discouraged otherwise interested students from pursuing and improving on their writing. (Everyone's got something to improve upon.) It is an important skill to have, to be able to communicate clearly and effectively, even (or perhaps especially) in medical, science and technology-based fields.

jessica myers said...

Although I was not able to attend class on Wednesday to complete the assignment, BUT I must say I was pretty shocked(or maybe I should use a different word because "pretty" might be considered weak). I really did not know that by my own classmates honestly only doing an assignment for a class, would get "hazed" or be considered "rude" for being "blog-whores". I do think that the comments are a positive feed back, because it let us know just how some people can be so critical, but also their love for writing. I hope that these attackers can understand that we are honestly just trying to get a feel for what others think of our blogs. If you took the time to honestly come and visit my site, you would honestly see that I have a good blog. Everyone in our class has a great topic for a blog. I just hope that this argument can seize and people can actually just take the information we're saying and read it, instead of picking apart at the grammatical errors.

David said...

I was completly unaware of the fact that our class was taking so much flack from the blogger community. After reading the comments left from certain people I am very surprised at the fact that we are judged by grammer mistakes. If I were to have left out a comma or made a spelling mistake, would I have been bashed from my writing and not from what I am trying to promote?

Elizabeth said...

For what it's worth, Jessica, I visited the blogs of each and every one of the students in your class, and I posted comments on some posts that I found interesting (e.g., consumer debt). Yours is relatively well-written; it's just not on a topic area that moved me to comment. I'm sure I'm not the only one who looked at the student blogs, but comments about the class as a whole seemed to be most appropriate on this one.

And, David, while I snarked at Derek about grammar (or, more properly in his case, typos), I don't think that anyone needs to get out the Strunk and White to be permitted to comment on a blog. But I do think that most people use correct grammar most of the time when they speak. If you just read your comment aloud before you post it, you will probably notice most of the errors yourself. That's part of the minimum effort that spazmatic mentioned. (If you know that you are not a good speller, then running the comments through a spellchecker is also part of that minimum effort. Firefox has a spellcheck plugin available so you can do it as you're composing the comment.)

It's not that grammar and spelling are more important than content, it's that if they are noticeably bad, they may detract from the content. If you were at dinner with someone who had spinach on his teeth, you might find it more difficult to concentrate on his words, because every time he opened his mouth to talk, you'd see that spinach. If the speech is compelling enough, you forget the spinach and listen anyway. But it raises the bar for what kind of content is necessary to distract you from the presentation.

It's sort of funny that all this is stemming from comments on defective yeti, because Matt himself often posts entries with typos, particularly spelling mistakes. However, he always corrects them when they are pointed out, whether in comments or in email, and he seems to appreciate the feedback, because he wants to be sure that we're all focusing on his excellent writing.

srah said...

I hope that the students are now finding that, despite their questionable first impressions, many of the DY readers have visited their blogs and quite a few of us have commented (where we felt we had something constructive to add to the discussion).

Spazmatic said...

I've actually read all the entries on all the blogs (at least, all the entries as of a couple days ago). I'm just disinclined to comment, generally speaking, on non-technical matters.

Heck, I only got involved in this particular discussion because I put a comment on DY suggesting that the OSU students read lots of DY! I mean, I was pretty perky and excited when I read Matthew's post.

But, anyways, I just thought I'd try to clarify the general point one more time, because apparently it's still not getting through.

This is not a "hazing". It's also not anyone's grammar or spelling that's the problem, per se, but rather the general presentation. For example, the blog posts themselves are perfectly charming. Most of the comments in the last, say, 2 days, have also been rather pleasant reads. The problem was rather the... UNpleasant first impression left by the initial series of content-lite (content-free?) comments on DY. They happened to also have mangled punctuation, annoying abbreviations, and even the occasional missing space.

I'd quote from them, but then I'd feel bad for singling someone out. They're in the DY comments thread, if you haven't seen them.

Anyways, I'm sure this topic is dead as Elvis. I just hope that we don't leave the impression that all the denizens of the Intarwebs are evil grammar nazis lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce. I never, EVER comment on grammar or spelling unless it crosses from Oopsville into "I don't feel the need to even glance at my comment before hitting submit"-ville. Not only am I unqualified to do so, but, hey, who cares?

Just don't cross that line. :P

Davey said...

I'm a regular on DY. I rarely go more than a day without reading whatever Matthew hangs out there for us to see. I made this observation at DY and I will make it again here: DY fans go there because of the very high quality writing that Matthew provides. The guy is literate, funny, insightful and never, ever boring. When you step into that sort of environment, you gotta bring your "A" game. Many DY regulars, myself included, wish we could do what Matthew does so well; most of us can't, but we can and do riff off of what he gives us. It can get a little out of hand sometimes and on rare occasions, Matthew will try to put a stop to it, as he did this time.

DY is a thinking person's blog and some of the posts you all put there betrayed no thought at all. That will get nailed at DY every time. You may be surprised to know, though, that it is one of the few places on the Internet where, when the subjects of politics and religion come up, we don't resort to coprophilic rantings at each other. There is usually a reasonable, if pointed, discussion and as long as it doesn't get profane, Matthew lets it go on.

Kudos to your professor for sending you to DY. Stay with it and you'll learn something, or at least develop and refine your view of the world.

Jay Tsevens said...

Thank ewe you were so elequaint defender of we bad gremmerists

mak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.