Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Get it right for the kids

I was driving along those country roads with my radio blasting when my least favorite commercial came on: Kars4Kids.  I dislike this commercial on two levels. First, it is such a catchy tune that it sticks in my brain for hours.  Of course that makes it a commercial success. The second reason I don’t like it stems from my years as an English teacher: it misspells car.

Hillary Clinton told us it takes a village to raise a kid, and I can remember those times I got home and somebody had already called my parents to report some misbehavior.  However, the village can also damage kids when it messes with the language.

Children come to school with a language structure already in place. They don’t come to school with a history or math structure in place. The English teacher works to correct and polish that language structure. When advertisers purposely misspell words as in kars for cars, kidz for kids, lite for light or nite for night, etc., because it is kind of cutesy, they are a part of the village that damages the kids.

Another way we mess up language for kids is to use it inaccurately.  My favorite example of this actually took place each year where I taught. The National Guard would print red ribbons every year as part of an anti-drug abuse campaign and distribute them to all school children throughout the state. Emblazoned on the ribbons was “I am drug free.” Students who were drug free were encouraged to proudly wear the ribbons during “Red Ribbon Week,” and 99 percent did.

Yet, one principle told me that at least 50 percent of the students in her school were on some kind of prescription drug, which was not unique to her school. Were they drug free? I pointed out this inaccuracy to the principal, who also happened to be a former English teacher, and she agreed, but unfortunately the ribbons were not printed by the school.

I know what the ribbon meant. It meant I am drug abuse free, but that is not what it said. To complicate this issue further, we continue culturally to use the term drug free and hold it up as a virtue.  Meanwhile, you cannot turn on the television without being assaulted by commercials promoting drugs, and it becomes obvious we are not drug free nor want to be, but we can be drug abuse free.

I remember reading a column several years ago where the writer suggested if we want to make headway in the war against drugs, we need to ban all drug related commercials as a starting point. That probably won’t happen, but we could at least be accurate in our use of language.  The village can help raise a kid, but it can also damage the same.


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