Monday, January 26, 2004

If society insist on standardized tests, can't they at least test stuff that's actually going to matter? In middle school, I was taught parts of speech diagrams (in English) and how to manually calculate the square root of a number (in math). To me, these are classic examples of how to waste time and brain cells.

Parts of speech diagrams were foolish because they didn't help you learn parts of speech any better. You were more concerned about trying to remember what goes on diaganol lines and what goes on straight lines or something like that. I don't remember exactly. Which is exactly the point. I'm a writer and I still think it was useless.

Manually calculating the square root of a number was even more pointless. Anyone who ever uses the square root in their profession will determine it via a calculator or computer. I actually obtained a bachelor's degree in math and I never manually calculated a square root in university. If I had, I'd never have finished any of the exams. No engineer or mathematician is ever going to do this by hand!

This is what's called make work. If you taught you how to think or deduce or gave you brain flexibility or anything other than simply memorizing something you'll never need after the test, it might be worth something. But state administrators need to fill up a syllabus so stuff like this gets thrown in.

Instead of wasting brain cells and energy on nonesense like manual square roots, why not hammer home stuff kids will actually use? For example, mathematical skills related to balancing a checkbook.

A big one is that people should know rules concerning apostrophes. This is a pet peeve of mine. Perhaps because my mom was an English teacher so stuff like this got hammered into me when I was young. The use of apostrophes is careless. But it's also an example of pretensiousness.

Being wrong because you're trying to be pretentious is more annoying more than simply being wrong. The latter is merely an error of omission; the former, one of commission.

Many people say "I feel well" when they almost always mean "I feel good." Or they'll say "Between you and I..." when they really mean "Between you and me." And they do so because it SOUNDS more educated. "I feel good" sounds uncultured to the ear. But it's gramatically correct unless referring to your sense of touch.

Mis-use of apostrophes is one of the most common causes of grammatical errors, but one of the simplest to avoid.

I was at the YMCA yesterday and there was a flyer advertising a basketball league. The text read something like "League fee's are due by Jan. 28." Worse, I was at my local high school. The new addition had bathrooms but they hadn't yet put up permanent signs identifying them. So one of the doors had a hand-written sign that read "Boy's room." It's bad enough that someone (presumably someone in authority) made this mistake. But after four months, no one has bothered to fix it. It's pretty embarassing.

So here is a simple primer to the use of apostrophes.

Apostrophes are used for two primary reasons.

a) To indicate a contraction
b) To indicate possession

These are used to indicate a shortened form of (usually) something else. For example, "isn't" is a contraction of "is not". "I'll" instead of "I will." These are fairly straight forward except sometimes when the conjugation "is" is involved. "John's going to the library" really means "John is going to the library." It does not indicate...

Possession is usually indicated by the apostrophe s combination. "John's book" means "the book that belongs to John." Most people simply put an apostrophe if the noun in question is plural. "The Cubs' game." [Some people insist on adding an 's even to nouns ending in an s, such as "James's shoes." This is generally considered less preferable but not flat out incorrect]

The position of the apostrophe is very important and this is what often leads to confusion. "My brother's room" means something very different than "my brothers' room." The key is to note what comes before the apostrophe. "My brother's room" means "the room of my [one] brother." Whereas "my brothers' room" means "the room of my [multiple] brothers." One little space can make a big difference. That's why "boy's room" was wrong, unless it was specifically reserved for one guy in particular.

"It" is the most often butchered word when it comes to apostrophes. So here's the simple explanation

"It's" means "it is." ex-It's a shame what Bush is doing.
"Its" indicates possession. ex-The dog wags its tail.

The word its' does not exist. If you want to show possession, use its.

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