Monday, July 12, 2010

Brakin' the Law

Hello, there. I'm the guy you glare at, because I get to the intersection of Northern Parkway and The Alameda at about 7:05 AM, and the sign says "No right turn on red, 7 AM - 4 PM, so I don't turn right on the red light.

So honk at me all you will and give me all the fingers you need to. I don't like to break the law. For a liberal, I take a most illiberal stance on breaking the law.

I don't even like to patronize the farm stands who break the law. In our county, farmers are allowed to pack up their produce in the ol' pick-'em-up truck and sell it along the streets and roads, as long as they keep moving. Setting up a permanent roadside sales venue is not allowed, because it's not fair to the guy who built a brick-and-mortar produce stand or grocery store and has to pay taxes and so forth. But on the other hand, I'm not the one breaking the law if I stop where the farmer has pulled her pickup over on Putty Hill Avenue (if you're reading this in Kankakee or Keokuk, do you think we have oddly-named streets?) to get some sweet corn and tomatoes. I just hope that if the police dept. sends around their undercover Produce Squad, I don't get busted and wind up with my name in the newspaper ("....also being held at the Towson Precinct and charged with patronizing an illegal roadside stand, and violating the Taft-Hartley Act, was...") because they always put in your mug shot and I don't look my best in this heat.

I didn't look so great in the cold last winter either, if you want to know the truth.

But I am really on my high horse about this thing, this Stretch Spelling. When I first heard of this, I thought it must refer to Tori Spelling's really tall younger brother, for surely we know that there is no way to strrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeettttttttttttcccccccccccchhhhhhhhhhhh the correct spelling of a word. Click on that website and find out what they are saying...stretch spelling is inventive spelling, Kid spelling, phonetic spelling, temporary spelling. Now this really rankles me, the more I read about it. I keep reading this sentence over and over, and still, I am rankled. Stick with me for a second:

"As children are encouraged to express their thoughts and ideas on paper, stretch spelling allows children to experiment with written language without feeling the restraints of the correct rules of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling."

Oh for the sweet love of all that is good and holy! The words of Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Byron, even Mickey Spillane and, heaven forbid, Vachel Lindsay are to be cast aside so that the class can learn more about how young Marmaduke or Mildred feel. Good-bye, Ernest Hemingway! Farewell, Garrison Keillor! Ave atque vale, John Milton! We have entered that Brave New World! Orwell, we knew it was coming. Written language is now a place to experiment. If you don't feel like spelling words correctly, pheel phree 2 mayk upp ur oan wayz too wright. Wee R pleezed 2 hav a chantz 2 cher ur pheelings. And punctuation? Why bother? Capitalization, sorry, go join spelling and pronunciation on the unemployment line. And be quick about it so that wee Wilberforce here can give us his thoughts on this one time when he went to the meadow and there was this cal and the hoarse chased the cal and we went for a hey ride.

Ring Lardner wrote like that as a parody, to show how the unlettered would express themselves. He did not mean for people to start writing like that for real!

Kids, if you are within the sound of my voice, run as fast as your little legs will carry you away from this madness. One day you will leave school and be out in a world in which people will expect you to punctuate, capitalize and spell properly. There is no stretching here in the real world; there is only the right way to punctuate, capitalize and spell. If you fall short of these standards, your words will be regarded as those of lesser import.

And I don't even blame the kids. They are the unwitting victims of a society that has forgotten what made it great. We worked, we learned, we earned the right to use the English language that was our inheritance from our forefathers. I was encouraged to express myself in writing (people seemed to prefer it to hearing from me vocally). But no teacher of mine ever encouraged me to use creativity in punctuation, spelling, grammar or pronunciation.

Ask your teacher, if he or she says it's ok to spell things wrong as long as you're expressing yourself, if it's all right to say that 4 times 5 is 19. Really, how close can you get?

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