Michael Medved writes:
Shut Up And Teach
I know it's a bad habit to point out grammatical errors in the work of other people, but as a former seventh grade English teacher I can't help myself. I cringe whenever I see obvious, embarrassing mistakes (especially if they happen to be my own), and I particularly loathe the current tendency to promote political correctness by substituting the pronoun "they" when it should be "he" or "she." Example: "Each individual makes this common mistake, whether they know better or not." Obviously, "they" (plural) disagrees with "Each individual" (singular). The right wording, of course, would be "Each individual makes this common mistake whether he knows better or not."
In general, this sort of clumsiness counts as merely an irritant, but if the error occurs in a much-publicized statement from a large group of educators, then their unprofessional stupidity deserves the broadest possible exposure and the strongest possible condemnation. In last month's convention of the American Federation of Teachers, representing 1.3 million educators in every state of the union, the preachy pedagogues adopted a resolution slamming the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. More than 90% of the delegates voted to endorse the resolution, and apparently none of them noticed its appallingly ill-chosen wording:
"Resolved, that the American Federation of Teachers oppose the war in Iraq and call upon our country's leaders to withdraw all troops....."
Okay, class - is "American Federation of Teachers" (the subject of the sentence) singular or plural? Obviously, it's singular - only one "Federation" though it represents many (too many) teachers. And what about the verbs, "oppose" and "call," singular or plural? They are plural, obviously - teachers can "oppose and call" but a federation "opposes and calls." The AFT, in other words, gets a failing grade in middle school English.
This is not quantum physics, nor rocket science (I couldn't have taught those subjects - they are my father's area of expertise). To paraphrase the signature line from Cool Hand Luke: what we have here is a failure to communicate - grammatically. For educational professionals to vote on a resolution wiithout noting its illiteracy, and then to issue the resolution to the public without embarrassment, highlights one of the problems with the education unions: too much emphasis on political correctness, and not nearly enough on the classroom basics.
Wouldn't a reasonable educator think that the proper use of the language is a more important obligation for a teachers' union than taking a gratuitous position on the Iraq war.... one of 143 political resolutions, by the way, pushed through this convention?
The rebel conservative rock band "The Right Brothers" recently performed a world premiere on my radio show of a song called "Shut Up and Teach!" - urging educators to concentrate on education, rather than indoctrination. If the AFT and individual teachers paid heed to that advice they'd stand a better chance of avoiding bone-headed grammatical miscues in their public proclamations.