Monday, September 10, 2007

Junie B. Jones - unemployed gas station attendant

I'm taking a break from my regularly scheduled Ron Paul plug to focus on my core task of crusading against stupidity.

Today's topic is Junie B. Jones. For those of you that don't know, Junie B. Jones is the main character for a wildly successful series of books by Barbara Park, aimed at kids in the 5-8 age range to read by themselves.

Junie B. is pretty much a bratty kid with bad manners, terrible grammar, and who is 5 or 6 years old, depending on the book. She writes about her adventures and misadventures in a journal she keeps, the books are generally pretty humorous, and kids seem to like them.

However, I have a serious issue with these books. Kaitlyn has now read two of them, and this most recent will be the last. The grammar in the books is beyond atrocious, and any benefit she's getting from reading is being destroyed by the learning--or at least confusion over--the bad English.

Here's an example:

"He clapped his loud hands together... All of us got relief on our faces. And we hurried to the auditorium as fast as we could go. And we quick put on our costumes... I tapped Sheldon very giggly."
That's just part of one page... a page I opened at random just now for purposes of this blog. This page (page 74 of "Shipwrecked") has nine sentence fragments in it, and nine other grammatical errors by my count. There are a total of 16 sentences on the page, including the fragments.

You read that right: 18 errors in 16 sentences. There are two complete sentences that are error-free.

As you might expect, using these books in school has caused a bit of controversy. Some people want them banned, others think they are fine. I think both groups are full of idiots.

First, just because a book is a piece of trash is no reason to make it's use or ownership illegal. Second, to think that having kids who are just learning grammar read books that contain almost no grammatically correct sentences is plain dumb.

From what I've read online, the controversy has been boiled down to some debate between teaching phonics and teaching "whole language." This is also complete garbage.

"Whole language," as we've been exposed to it, has consisted of letting Kaitlyn write stories and such without over-correcting spelling and grammar. This clearly makes sense: why spend 10 minutes trying to spell a word when it's the process of converting thoughts into text that the real skill you want to teach, and where the real learning takes place.

So that's fine. HOWEVER - that does not mean that you should expose the kid to all kinds of bad grammar which they will then, in turn, copy. Every person reading this blog knows someone that can't write worth a crap, because when they do, it's all grammatical garbage. You don't have to wonder why, because the person who has the bad grammar when they write, it the same person that has the bad grammar when they speak.

People write like they talk. People speak like what they hear (other people, TV, radio, music), and what they read. If your parents use incorrect grammar, chances are you do to.

Saying that kids shouldn't be overexposed to this kind of incorrect English is to advocate phonics vs. whole language is also dumb. Phonics has nothing to do with it. First, for the reasons I just listed, and second, because no one really reads using phonics anyway--you only sound out new words using phonics until you memorize the word. You want proof?

Engilsh is a pretty scrweed up langauge.

I'm sure you had no trouble reading that, despite the fact that most of it is grossly misspelled. That's because it's been proven that people only really look at the beginning and ending of a word, and scan the middle for the correct letters. If the letters in the middle are ok, even in the wrong order, and the word starts and ends correctly, then people will read it as though it were spelled correctly, often without even noticing.

So my problem with Junie B. Jones is not her desire to teach using whole language, or that I secretly have a love affair with Hooked on Phonics. My problem is that you learn proper grammar by being exposed to proper grammar, and you will emulate the language structure of your environment.

For all the millions of books out there kids could read, there is absolutely no reason for these books to be read, unless of course they were being used to discuss bad grammar.

If the books only used the bad grammar in the journal parts (where Junie B is writing herself), then I think it would be fine. The kid reading the book could easily compare that to the rest of the correct grammar used in the story. Unfortunately, the grammar is deliberately destroyed throughout, and gives no point of reference to the 6 year old kid who's trying to decipher it.

Junie B. Jones is well on her way to becoming an unemployed gas station attendant who is begging for a shot to appear on the Jerry Springer show. More power to her, but that's not who I want my kids emulating.

Hasta la vista, Junie. I hoping that you'll get a very goodly life when you do.

PS - if my English is incorrect, I blame the fact that I just had to read a whole chapter of this claptrap to Kaitlyn. The last sentence is supposed to be messed up, as, of coursely, you could most plain to tell.


Allan said...

Junie, U rote: 'This clearly makes sense: why spend 10 minutes trying to spell a word when it's the process of converting thoughts into text that the real skill you want to teach, and where the real learning takes place.'
Dus it not strike u that sumthing is rong if spelling hinders 'the process of converting thoughts into text' when spelling is ment ot help such an activity?
Menny children who ar adected this way giv up on riting and reeding, and as a consequence English-speeking societys worldwide ahv a 20percent-plus ilitracy rate. Is it not time we did sumthing about this disconect?

Newton said...

Thanks for the "heds" up. I haven't heard of these books yet, but I agree with what you're saying. I spent 12 years in public school in Arkansas with teachers that called me "Jermy." Bad examples are hard to overcome. I even had a teacher in the 7th grade who wouldn't believe that "psychic" started with a "p" until I showed her in a dictionary (I'm not making that up).
(disclaimer: not all Arkansas teachers are bad, some are VERY good.) please for responses said...

thanks my little sister reads these and she loves writing stories. but i was beginning to notice some weird grammatical errors however i wasnt albe to pinpoint the source. Though clearly this is not the only source, it still is influential in my sister slife and probably affects her writing.

Graeme said...

I'm sorry but i can't agree with you on this one. I believe these books are perfectly fine for young readers. The grammar in these books is wrong, but young kids know that. Also, when is the last time you heard a five year old talk with perfect grammar? Little kids talk to each other almost everyday. Surely this influences them a whole lot more than reading a few books. Its like a single pebble at the bottom of a river. Its not going to change the direction the water flows.