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Jewish World Review July 26, 2000 / 23 Tamuz, 5760

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

Declining standards -- LISTENING to how English is spoken nowadays is one more indicator of our decline in values and standards. It's not just the foul language and loose talk; it's also the widespread corruption of the English language and ignorance of grammatical principles, even among the educated. How about a few examples?

"I'd like to invite your wife and yourself to dinner." The word "yourself" is a reflexive pronoun. It's proper use requires that it refer back to another word in the sentence. For example, "Walter injured himself." Or the pronoun can be used intensively for emphasis, "Walter himself was injured." In both cases, himself refers back to Walter.

Here's one that takes me back five decades. "He is taller than me." Whenever I hear that error, I visualize Dr. Martin Rosenberg, my high school English teacher, with his hands on his waist, sarcastically asking , "Do you mean 'He is taller than me am.'?" Am is the understood, elliptical or left out, verb at the end of the sentence. The subject of a verb must be in the nominative case. To be grammatically correct, the sentence must read, "He is taller than I."

How about this one? "Big banks don't loan money to poor people." Sorry folks. Loan is a noun. One needs a verb, perhaps lend. Then there's, "That's like you saying he deserved to lose." Verbs ending in "ing" are gerunds. The subject of a gerund must be in the possessive case. The sentence should read: "That's like your saying he deserved to lose."

You say, "Williams, what's the business with the grammar lesson?" There are a couple of points. I attended Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School, graduating in 1954. During those days, Benjamin Franklin was a predominantly black school attended by the city's poorest children. It definitely wasn't a school of one's first choice.

Also, in stark contrast to today, Philadelphia's mayor was white; its city council was just about all white; there never had been a black superintendent of schools; and there were no black high-school principals. Despite this, we received an education far superior to that received by today's Benjamin Franklin High School students. In fact, if it was possible to bring the Benjamin Franklin of 1954 to year 2000, I'd wager it would be Philadelphia's public high school with just about the highest level of academic standards.

The Benjamin Franklin High School of the 1950s had none of those things education experts tell us is necessary for black academic achievement. We didn't have "role" models; most of the teachers were white. To my recollection, there were only two black teachers.

There wasn't a lot of concern about "self-esteem." I know that personally, for I was a bit of a miscreant and teachers minced no words in airing their displeasure with me. There was tracking, or ability grouping. We weren't allowed to express ourselves by using foul language to, and in the presence of, adults.

Finally, there wasn't the kind of money spent today on education. Because of racial discrimination, at the time, I'd wager that Benjamin Franklin didn't have a budget commensurate with Philadelphia's predominantly white high schools.

I'm old-fashioned, and that's what I tell my economics students when they complain about lost points on their essay examinations. They might complain, "This is not an English class!" I respond, "But, English is the language we're using." In doing so, I don't mind telling you that I feel as though I'm the last of the Mohicans.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate