Friday, September 18, 2015

Let's copy edit the Idaho state superintendent's grammatical mess of an essay

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 3:24 PM


We all need copy editors. Even journalists. Especially journalists.

So, yes, there's a bit of a "speck in your brother's eye" quality to criticizing the grammatical errors.  I make plenty of typos, so it's hardly for me to judge. Hypocrisy admitted. 

Still. The recent press release, "Students Will Continue to Persevere," that Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra submitted for newspapers to publish is a mess, filled with extra commas, subject-verb agreement errors and confusing sentences. It's drawn mockery on Twitter and Facebook, with one commenter comparing it to a piece he'd read in the Onion.


After all, Ybarra is the state superintendent of schools that teach grammar courses. She's been criticized, time and time again, for lacking qualifications. There are thousands of highly qualified English teachers in Idaho who would be happy to copy edit her prose before she publishes it. 
click to enlarge Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra

But where some may see her opinion essay as an indictment of Idaho's educational system, I see an opportunity. This is a perfect exercise for high school English teachers across Idaho to give their students: Edit the state superintendent's essay. Fix punctuation errors. Rewrite clunky sentences. 

Here are a few sentences they can start with. 
Mutual accountability includes multiple measures over multiple times, and does not look like one test score, as most parents will tell you, “There is more to my child than one-test score.” 
Split up into two sentences by changing that comma after "score" to a period. Also: Is she referring to a specific scoring index called the "one-test"
If so, please explain what the "one-test" score is. If not, remove the hyphen. 
According to a recent magazine article, “Studying others’ misfortunes is one of the most valuable tools we have; one must navigate through failures and misfortunes, on their path to success.”
I attempted to Google this phrase to find the article Ybarra referenced and came up short. Now I'm curious where it came from. It seems to have the same comma trouble as the rest of her essay. For example, there should not be a comma after the second "misfortunes."

Also, if I'm being a stickler, in formal writing "one" is singular and "their" is plural. While the singular "they" is on the rise, many Idaho English teachers will still mark this as wrong. If Ybarra's next campaign platform centers on fighting for the "singular they" in Idaho schools, that's a campaign I could get behind.  
I used to have a poster in my classroom, “This is a mistake-making place.”
"Says," or a similar word, is missing after classroom. On the other hand, if Ybarra is intentionally making mistakes in this essay to highlight the value of making mistakes, that's some next-level meta jiu-jitsu she's pulling. And then there's this sentence.
For example, from the time that a student steps into their classroom, they not only have a lesson plan written, and teaching strategies in place, but they also support students in many different ways that we don’t see; for example, they show up for class, even when students are hungry, when students are going through personal struggles, and they show up for class when our students are victims of unspeakable things, or victims of terminal illnesses. 
Let's set aside the comma and subject-verb agreement problems for a moment. There are very few times when a semicolon is the best choice. In a sentence this long, with this many ideas, it just makes it a mess messier. Split up the sentence instead. 
I'm also confused about the antecedent of "they." Is Ybarra referring to the teachers showing up for class when their students are hungry or to the hungry students who still show up for class?

But, this is probably going to be messy and chaotic, and there will be failures and misfortunes that we will need to learn from, in order for our educational system to get better. We need to allow our schools to have this flexibility and mutually responsible accountability culture, in order to change the landscape of education in Idaho.
Lose some of those commas. I don't understand the phrase "this flexibility and mutually responsible accountability culture." Is she trying to say, "this flexible and mutually responsible culture of accountability?" Or maybe "this flexibility and this mutually responsible accountability-culture?" 
And, as your state superintendent I want to renew our partnership and build excitement for our educational system and our students, and I will continue to drive our agenda forward, with a message that failure is just a stepping stone on our path to success!
Aside from the comma issues, this is another messy sentence that could use a period, preferably after "students." And "our partnership" with whom? Parents? Students? Local districts? Pearson?

Don't worry, Ybarra. This happens to everybody. You'll make mistakes and you'll experience failures. Errors are just stepping stones to success. Make the changes and I'll bump the essay up a grade. 
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