Bill Gates, the co-founder of the world's largest philanthropy, called on President-elect Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to expand support for education and make the federal government "a dynamic agent of school reform," even though the nation is struggling through difficult economic times.
If how our children speak is an indication of how they think, our young people and the country are in deep trouble. And the task to which Gates referred is massive. The job of the new secretary of education will be too.
The word "like" has become a substitute for such words as "said," "thought," "wished," "considered," and "wondered." "Stuff" and "everything" cover just about everything. You don't have to go far from your house to overhear: "He like says he doesn't like me and everything. That's cool and stuff, but I'm like, OK, whatever. Like I'm gonna like get all upset and stuff. I'm soooooo not. Forget it."
I've made my car a "like-free zone." It's my small effort to improve a condition that is worsening by the day. When I am driving teenagers home from school, they try not to use the word "like." It's an extraordinary challenge. They seem to enjoy it. And it beats walking home.
When I was young, I used to occasionally add, "you know" at various points in conversation. My father would reply, "No, I don't know." It was annoying. But it made me aware of superfluous fillers that become part of our speech habits. They are difficult to shake.
Unfortunately, many educators speak this way too. Schools of Education should not allow future teachers to use "like," "stuff," "and "everything" in place of information or useful pauses.
Does your child's school have this problem? If so, you should bring it to the attention of the PTA, principal or superintendent. Write to a college dean. You, too, can be unpopular. But, hey, your child's education is at stake.
Ask yourself if this is how your son, daughter, grandchild, niece, or nephew speaks?
So like I said like, "Don't you talk to me like that!" And, he was like, "What?" And I like couldn't take it and he like thought he was so cool and stuff and I like brushed him off and he was like, "Whatever."
Why are schools tolerating this? It's awful! Why are parents letting this happen? I challenged a classroom full of college students to stop using "like." They accepted. I helped them find substitutes and eventually to rid their language of "like," "stuff," and other fillers. I wasn't looking for perfection. I was offering them an advantage in landing a good job.
If we don't insist that children and young adults learn to communicate clearly and persuasively, we harm their futures. We allow sloppy language to infect their thinking. It isn't enough to be bright. Children with high grades and excellent SAT scores often don't get into the colleges of their choice. After the on-campus interviews, and sixty "likes" later, their hopes are dashed.
Good grades are great, but it's time to give our children a chance to express themselves in ways that enhance their success. Otherwise, you may be the only person who gets to know that your child is, in one way or another, quite brilliant.
Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.