Minority Opinions

Not everyone can be mainstream, after all.

Semi-Literacy

with 2 comments

I have a problem.  I read quite a bit, but tend to get annoyed by little grammatical errors.  I still make a distinction between “it’s” and “its” in my writing, and for some crazy reason expect others to do the same.  As a TA, I would mark in red every mistake on a pass/fail two-page paper.  I have contributed to Apostrophe Catastrophes.  I spotted the single non-deliberate homophone mix-up in the first issue of our Mental Floss gift subscription.  There’s a wiki I no longer contribute to because my improvements got reverted a few times.  I need help.

At one point, I was complaining to my wonderful companion about something that should have been minor, and was introduced to the idea that most of the country is only semi-literate.  The fact that most of the populace can read and write at all is a huge improvement over most of history, and even over many countries today, where only the rich have enough time and money to obtain basic education that we take for granted.  The fact that I can read and write at all, much less with nearly perfect spelling and grammar, in one of Earth’s craziest but most influential languages, is nearly a miracle.  Is it elitist of me to expect perfection from those who could have lived with so much less?

Currently, there’s a local fund-raiser aiming to get books into the homes of children without any.  The hope is that it will raise literacy rates among the poor.  (There are also state legislators trying to starve public schools of money, in an effort to bring back vouchers for private school, and a fair number of people who think that home-schooling is an ideal to strive for, but we prefer to treat symptoms than admit that our values might cause problems.)  Even here, even now, there are people who don’t read and write at all.  Sure, that means they’re not writing the semi-literate junk that annoys me, but my preferred solution is to make people smarter, not dumber.

On the other hand, this corrective impulse probably makes me a better programmer.  I notice the little flaws that are likely to cause hidden data corruption, performance issues, or logic errors; things like uninitialized variables, deeply nested loops, or missing parens around operators without easily remembered precedence rules.  Then again, it’s also why I get so annoyed by lame brace styles and inconsistent indentation.  Is it a good thing that so many people know how to program, even if so many of them do it so poorly?  If more beginning programming courses switch to Python, will the average Python code start looking just as bad as the average C++ or Java code does today?

Should I even care?

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Written by eswald

30 Mar 2011 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Lifestyle

2 Responses

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  1. I was waiting to jump all over you when I spotted a typo, but I failed to find one! :) You should add a typo bounty widget like we have on http://messymatters.com

    Daniel Reeves

    31 Mar 2011 at 1:17 am

    • You weren’t looking hard enough. ☺
      It’s fixed now.

      eswald

      31 Mar 2011 at 2:08 pm


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