When I was a teenager, George Carlin was one of my biggest role models.
I owe much of my passion for writing to him, as well as my love of history, politics, philosophy and much more. He wasn’t only a comedian, but he was also an observant critic of American culture, particularly with our language. Carlin once said we think in language, and “the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language.” I think in his magnificent more-than-50-year career, this is the truest thing he said.
I also believe our thoughts begin with our understanding of language, and they grow more complex as our ability to comprehend language increases over time; however, the problem I see with America’s education system is we don’t attribute much of our educational success to mastering language itself. When I took English 207, a hardcore grammar class, I realized the last time I had been taught English was in eighth grade.
In high school, we jump immediately into literature and analysis. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, considering I don’t know how I would have survived high school without Holden Caulfield’s angst to mirror my own. I do believe there is a problem when public schools completely disregard grammar and linguistics as a core requirement of education.
We always hear about the importance of mathematics and sciences, two subjects from which I unfortunately lose IQ points just thinking about. Things like algebra, physics and chemistry are all processes of learning. By that I mean you must understand the fundamentals steps before you can master the subjects. I think people fail to recognize understanding English is just as complicated when it’s broken down into parts. Let me give you an example: Do you know when using a comma is appropriate and when it isn’t? I’m betting most of you don’t, especially because even I don’t always know. Commas are reckless little monsters.
But that’s exactly my point. I think if we all learn the complexities of the English language throughout our lives, rather than dismissing grammar after junior high, we would all be much better communicators. It doesn’t matter what we excel at in high school or in what department we earn our major in college: It’s crucial everyone understands the concepts of English to communicate strongly.
Linguistics professor Edward Callary agreed that understanding language is certainly beneficial regardless of what we study.
“Practically wherever you go you’re going to have some writing to do,” Callary said. “I think, being a linguist, everybody could profit from a class dealing with language.”
I completely agree. We are surrounded by language at all times, and it’s better to have a solid, well-crafted understanding of it than to not. If you don’t believe me, look up examples of misused quotations, commas or words in general. They’re hilarious and sad at the same time.