Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Apostrophe War

I had a brief hiatus. My brain was not feeling up to thinking up something to write, so I didn't, but here's a new post.

Lance and I took a trip for a wedding this weekend (I was a bridesmaid). We made a gas stop, and I decided to take the opportunity to use the bathroom before we got on the road for the three hour trip. While in the ladies room, I noticed an amusing conversation on a sign from the management. It ended with "Thank's". I chuckled over this for a minute, but I was also amused by some handwritten comments on the sign.

Someone had taken a pen and scribbled out the obviously wrong apostrophe and wrote "NO APOSTROPHE". Someone else had later scribbled "Who cares?" The third (or possibly fourth) conversant added tartly, "The small percentage of Americans who are actually educated".

There's a weird tension that I run across in the attitudes toward being educated. For example, my mother always wanted me to use proper grammar so I wouldn't sound uneducated (and perhaps have ignorant parents), but she would mock or deliberately misunderstand any signs I showed of participating in higher education. (She hates discussions, for example, which I think are integral to academia). If you don't speak standard English, you could be labeled a hick (in Arkansas) and basically be called ignorant, stupid, or uneducated, but if you use a wide range of words, people laugh at you for being a nerd or a show-off.

Gerald Graff in Clueless in Academe (and probably some of his other books) addresses what he sees as America's anti-intellectualism. Aren't we a nation that prides itself itself on being full of working men (and women) who pull themselves up? Isn't that a part of the American dream, to go from nothing and work hard to make yourself into a success?

People want to be successful, but they don't want to be seen as too smart or intellectual. My mom called me an egghead because I got some of those glasses with the dark frames. It was a slight insult, an acknowledgment that I was purposefully adopting the nerd look (if that's what I was doing). My brothers and parents used to either imply or directly state that though I was "book smart", I had no "common sense", as if those things were mutually exclusive (I believe I was naive at that point in my life, but I'm fairly sure I've got a good measure of sense along with my book-smarts).

In one of my education classes, our professor asked us if we'd rather be highly gifted or of average intelligence, or if we'd rather deal with students with genius-level IQ scores, or those with below average scores. I immediately said that I'd rather be highly gifted, and that I'd rather work with intelligent students (but praise those who have the patience and love to work with students who are not so privileged); however, to my shock, many of my other classmates said that they would not like to have a high IQ because people who did were unable to socialize properly, were somehow outside of society, were nerds who didn't live in the same world they did, even though our professor told us that research shows that those with a high IQ are usually highly socialized, able to move successfully in the world, and typically function as normal individuals. But those students could not get out of their minds the image of the nerd: the awkward, unsociable individual who is out of touch with pop culture and society, the one who plays video games and chess, and wears dark heavy framed glasses and pocket protectors.

There is a strong anti-intellectual streak in American culture. Perhaps that's why we have the president that we do.

However, the apostrophe war in the bathroom stall gives me (a little) hope that people do care about education, about being intelligent citizens. We may not all be grammar nerds (or nerds in general), but we can still care about the "life of the mind", improving ourselves through education, and being intelligent, capable individuals who can make the world better.


the secret knitter said...

You forgot "...and read Lord of the Rings." ;)

Also, hasn't the research shown that girls in particular feel pressure to hide their intelligence?

Jenn said...

I don't know...I've never heard any research to that--but it wouldn't surprise me. I didn't mind being smart, but I hid just how well I did in classes because people would say, "Wow, you're so smart", but not necessarily in a way that a teenager wants. However, I was really shy in high school, so that might be part of it.

pseudobunny said...

Seriously - NERD FOR LIFE!