This is SO Wrong!

Check this out:photo-virginia-madsen.jpg

Virginia Madsen’s high school theater teacher, Suzanne Adams, has always been a free spirit. She studied in Switzerland. Acted in Chicago. Helped found a performing arts school in Uganda. And directed Virginia to higher planes. “She gave me the courage to be me—and all of the me’s inside me.” Behind every famous person is a fabulous teacher.

This is an advertisement for teacherscount.org. Their mission, according to the statement on the website, is to “raise the status of the teaching profession and provide resources to the education community.” I think this is fantastic, so what’s my problem?

Where do I begin? First of all, this is an ad to promote teaching, and just LOOK at that grammar! Fragmented sentences all over the place. And “ME’S”?! That’s not even a word – and, if it were, it wouldn’t have a F**KING APOSTROPHE!

A lot of you have commented, quite eloquently, that teachers are fighting a losing battle on nearly all fronts, not the least of which is against popular culture. We can’t teach students to do/think/write one way in the classroom if those lessons are constantly and enthusiastically being countered out in the real world. If organizations like this one are using – and publishing – such lazy language, why SHOULD our students bother to learn what we’re trying to teach them?

Here’s the letter I’m writing to the Teacherscount.org people. Please read / edit / make suggestions to it so I know that I’m sending the most effective combination of praise and protest that I can:

Dear Teacherscount.org:

I’m writing to you to simultaneously commend you for bringing the value and importance of the work teachers do to national attention and to criticize you for the manner in which one of your ads is written.

The ad featuring Virginia Madsen and Suzanne Adams reads, and I quote:

Virginia Madsen’s high school theater teacher, Suzanne Adams, has always been a free spirit. She studied in Switzerland. Acted in Chicago. Helped found a performing arts school in Uganda. And directed Virginia to higher planes. “She gave me the courage to be me—and all of the me’s inside me.” Behind every famous person is a fabulous teacher.

I am an English teacher, and I take issue with the grammar in this paragraph. Three of the seven sentences in the advertisement are fragments. These structures have no subjects. I’m certain that the writers were assuming that Ms. Adams would be the understood subject of those fragments, but a third person (he, she, it) is not a grammatically accepted use of understood subjects. All of these errors could be easily fixed by connecting the fragments to the “she studied in Switzerland” sentence with commas.

Please don’t misunderstand; I think that the intent of your campaign is laudable. Teachers are not generally well respected in our society and I think that trend is continuing, if not worsening. I am pleased to see organizations like yours calling attention to the important role that teachers can play in students’ lives.

I also know, however, how difficult teachers’ jobs are, and how those jobs are often made more challenging because of popular culture and its seeming disregard for convention and propriety. How can we expect our students to learn to use our language properly if they continue to see and hear it misused in ads, movies, and music? If we can’t set a good example, we have no grounds to criticize our students for failing to learn, retain, and use what we’re trying to teach them. I would hope that your organization in particular would be sensitive to this.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

I just can’t let this one go.

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10 Comments

Filed under concerns, General Griping

10 responses to “This is SO Wrong!

  1. sphyrnatude

    The problem is that the folks who wrote the ad went to the schools that can’t teach.
    Don’t worry though, futile, uphill battles can be fun, and will give you more purpose in life…

  2. Heh. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Do you have any suggestions for the letter before I hit “send”?

  3. Rock on! Send it as is!

  4. wordlily

    Looks good! Send away.

  5. Looked great to me! My initial reaction was (as someone who teaches intro to writing for mass comm–including intro to writing ad copy) that in advertising copy we don’t always follow convention/rules, so the makers of this ad shouldn’t be held to that standard.

    But then I got your point.

    Your whole point is that the problem is that in advertising copy the standards are not upheld. While this is annoying from Coke or Pepsi, it is downright unacceptable from a teachers’ group.

    Am I getting it now?? I apologize that I initially wanted to defend the ad (it is that advertising degree I have, I think). I thank you for helping me understand the issue–even if I was a little slow on the uptake.

  6. Organic Mama

    Uphill battles are the more worthwhile ones. I wholeheartedly agree with your point, your indignation and the fervor with which you excoriate the teacher’s group for its very poorly worded and grammatically incorrect ad campaign. Grammar warriors are we!

  7. bowyer

    I understand that Ad agencies don’t always follow conventions, but this is totally unacceptable. It is my understanding that conventions are ignored when it will make the message more powerful, or more memorable. In this case ignoring the conventions merely makes the copy writer and organization seem ignorant, careless, and childish. Even my freshman don’t write this poorly. This looks like someone took the notes from the opening of a speech and threw it down on the copy verbatim.

    Behind every famous person is a fabulous teacher (but in this case not a grammarian).

    I applaud you for responding to teacherscount.org because they should be held to the standards to which we (and I would suppose they) hope to hold students.

  8. ffbgirl, I totally understand what you were trying to say – and I think Bowyer touched upon it, too, when he said that conventions are often ignored if it makes the ad more powerful or memorable. This one, though, is just wrong, and coming as it does from an organization that professes to support and encourage teachers makes the errors even more glaring.
    I hit “send” on the letter to the organization this evening. I’ll keep you posted on what (if any) response I get from it.

  9. JuliaDream

    I’ve been a lurker until now but I have been enjoying your blog for a few weeks. I love grammar Wednesdays!

    Let me first say, before I get torn to shreds, that poor grammar absolutely chaps my hide. I used to teach composition classes at a university and I could not believe the horrendous grammar submitted by my students! I certainly do not profess to be a grammar expert but I at least care to make an educated attempt.

    Ok, here’s the part where some of you may turn against me … I sort of want to defend the ad. Just a little. I certainly understand your point – if we can’t depend on an organization that purports to want to improve the image of teachers, on whom can we depend? But I can defend it as poetic license. It certainly would not have the impact if they used commas instead of periods because some of the drama of the longer pauses would have been lost. I view the text of the ad to be closer to creative writing and, as such, the use of the fragments would be acceptable.

    All that being said, and now that I’ve alienated all of you with my very first comment, I think they should have scrapped the idea behind the ad and tried something else to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy.

  10. JULIA! WELCOME!! I’m glad you’ve ‘delurked’ and commented!
    No, you haven’t alienated me – and I doubt you’ve pissed anyone else off, either. We’re a pretty open-minded group, and the free expression of ideas is allowed and encouraged in my online “classroom.” Like it says on the syllabi for my classes, “My classroom is a safe place. I will tolerate no form of violence or degradation in action or language. It is perfectly okay to disagree with another’s opinion; it is never okay to disrespect another person. We are here to learn and to support one another in learning; please do your part to create and sustain a safe and strong classroom environment.”
    I get the cadence of the ad, and I would have no problem with it if it were the voiceover for a radio or t.v. spot. Having it in print, though, makes me crazy (or, as you so descriptively said it, “chaps my hide.” LOVE that!). I think that it would have been just as effective, and slightly less grammatically offensive, to use ellipses to indicate the missing subject “she.”
    Just as an aside, I sent my note to the organization. I’ve heard nothing back as yet and will, of course, write about it as soon as (if) I do.
    I’m looking forward to hearing more from you, Julia! Remember that Grammar Wednesday requests are received with enthusaism and gratitude, and welcome to the class!

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