U r HeRe

As one educator attests, in the world of blogging, it’s not only what you say, but how you say it.

Jeff Weinstock THESE KIDS TODAY. They really give you something to LOL about. That’s laugh out loud, for the uninformed— among whom I counted myself until I took a turn through the blogs of Oak Hill High School (IN) teacher David McDivitt’s sociology students. If you’re a language stickler, buckle up. It can be a harrowing ride.

Every generation has its own jargon, but never has one had its own shorthand quite like the current one’s—a clattering, grammarless swarm of abbreviations, code, and decidedly peculiar punctuation. Let’s just say you won’t find many Strunk and White adherents in the blogosphere. It’s every comma for himself out there. You can’t tell your bc’s from your BRBs. That’s because and be right back. HPH! (Hope that helps.)

So the question for McDivitt is, what kind of a teacher lets his students write in such ghastly English? He’s heard it before, from an Oak Hill science teacher, no less. “He read the blogs and said, ‘What do you let them do that for?’” says McDivitt, chosen as one of T.H.E.’s 2006 Innovators for his use of educational gaming (see page 15 of our magazine). “I told him I don’t want them to worry about if they spell something correctly. I just want them to put their thoughts down.”

McDivitt wants his students to consider blogging an extension of the kind of free expression they engage in on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. He recoils from calling blogging what it is, journaling, which smells too last century.

“No! I’ve never used that word with my sociology students,” he says. “I don’t want them to think, ‘My grandma used to keep a journal under her mattress.’ I want them to think about MySpace and the way they communicate there. They blog there—it’s the same thing. This is kind of like MySpace for school. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I’ve gotten.”

Suspending all use of the J word in order to motivate his students to blog is in step with McDivitt’s overall approach to teaching with technology. “I just meet them where they are, instead of having them come to where I am, which is a 1986 high school graduate who in his first computer class had to save his stuff on a cassette tape.”

During a three-week period at Oak Hill when the computer lab wasn’t available, he says, “I had kids going, ‘Hey, Mr. McDivitt, when are we going to blog again? I want to go blog.’ I don’t know if they wanted to put some thoughts down, or if they wanted me to not lecture for a day. It could’ve been one or the other. It was still a nice thing to hear.”

And it’s a response McDivitt sees as validation of his methods. He makes a strong case. Plus, you can rest assured you’ve reached old-fogeyville when you’re decrying teenage slang, and who wants to face up to that? But it’s a debate worth having: whether exciting students about written expression is desirable if it encourages them to surrender their English skills.

Myself, I like rules. Seen correctly, rules set you free. And I like paragraph breaks. My blogging youth: Paragraph breaks create tempo; no paragraph breaks create vertigo. Plus, all that interspersing of uppercase and lowercase— it takes too much work to appear that random. Then again, I can’t find too much fault with a world where I can get away with calling someone an SOB (successful and outstanding blogger). Oh, man, LMAO!

You better look that one up yourself.

— Jeff Weinstock, Executive Editor

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.