PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MAY 2, 2013) — In the latest such evaluation of international education, the United States was found to be, still, slip-sliding away.

With well-intended ‘educators’ such as the late Jake Eberwein The Third, the late Doctor Darlington, and the extant Kathies Amuso and Yon, we are shocked, SHOCKED, to find that the typical U.S. student would lose against a toaster in a game of simple geography [Stray thought: “The Extant Kathies” would make a dynamite title for a play dealing with this subject]. The good old U S of A ranked 18th in overall student achievement, a perilous figure that’s not worse only because of mis-achievement elsewhere.

They Will Keep Howling

Can the United States sink from its #18 position globally? You bet it can, and signs point out that it will. Administrators will keep howling for more money to pay teachers unions that hold parents’ kids hostages, as maladroit politicians cower in the shadows, hoping not to receive the public’s glare. Forlorn though it is, but pubic education in America has become a conspiracy of ineptitude, with dangerous consequences we have only just begun to feel.

You can trace this inevitable decline to system-wide ignorance on the part of administrators, for example, their refusal to implement the 230-day school year (the norm elsewhere) to replace the current and archaic 180-day term. You can also get out the microscope and single in on specific examples. For instance, consider an essay written recently by a fourth U.S. grader. The essay went viral. It went viral not because it showcased the lad’s accomplishments as a writer. It went viral not because it revealed a precocity of limb and language. Rather, it went viral because it addressed a critical issue for children of that age: No, not world peace. No, not how much ice cream they will eat tonight.

The topic was gay marriage.

Gay marriage: The topic alone trumped all reasonable consideration of the writing. Also playing a factor is the current “Every kid is a genius-Every kid gets a medal” educational philosophy, that awards “A” for “effort” to “D” and “F” work.

Keep all of this in mind as the budget talks begin in Pittsfield for its dysfunctional, underperforming, cash-cow school department. Remember, when they come bleating for more money: It’s for “The Children.”

The Kid Is No Hemingway, No Valenti

The fourth grader’s topic of gay marriage guaranteed lots of politically correct attention from an intellectually challenged society that blindly accepts such topics du jour without plumbing the rhetorical, emotional, and moral aspects of their position. In showering the child with hosannas, his enablers were tacitly admitting how cool they are with an 18th-rate educational rating.

Anyhow, here’s what the kid wrote:

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“Why gay people should be able to get married is you can’t stop two adult’s from getting married because there grown and it doesn’t matter if it creeps you out just get over it. And you should be happy for them because it’s a big moment in their life. When I went to my grandparents wedding it was the happies moment.”

He’s no Hemingway. He’s no Joyce. He’s no Fitzgerald. He’s no Valenti.

Do you see the problems here? The boy’s reductive paragraph is loaded with errors that, years ago, would have resulted in the paper being returned to the lad, marked heavily with corrections, so that a second or third or fourth draft might emerge that would resemble proper written English and reveal what the elevated use of formal, written prose should be about. Fourth grade is the time where this needs to be taught, not remedial writing during one’s freshman year in college.

Instead of handing it back to the kid for rewrite, the kid’s teacher sent this terrible piece of juvenalia to a website along with the following note:

“I am not sharing this because of how perfect the sentences are, but because of how clear his thought process is on this specific issue,” the teacher wrote on Reddit. “It isn’t as simple as pointing out mistakes and spelling errors.”

That’s right, sister. The sentence are “not perfect,” but in fourth grade, it IS as simple as pointing out spelling errors and other technical mistakes. By the way, honey, the words are spelled correctly. It’s the usage that is faulty. THE PLANET could accept a little technical nausea, but to have the writing — one short paragraph — so full of fundamental errors in fourth grade? The formerly unacceptable has become something which we hold up for praise.

It Was Once the United States

The ham-fisted essay goes viral.

It’s all over, folks.

Here is the annotated version of the kid’s masterpiece:

“Why gay people should be able to get married is [EASILY AVOIDED SYNTACTICAL AWKWARDNESS WITH THE “TO BE” VERB] you can’t stop two adult’s [NO POSSESSIVE CASE IS THIS USAGE] from getting married because there [SPELL CHECK DOESN’T WEED OUT HOMONYMS] grown [COMMA NEEDED TO SEPARATE INDEPENDENT CLAUSES SEPARATED BY A COORDINATING CONJUNCTION] and it doesn’t matter if it creeps you out [FUSED SENTENCE] just get over it. And [BEGINNING A MAIN CLAUSE WITH A COORDINATING CONJUNCTION, FORMERLY UNACCEPTABLE, IS NOW OVERLOOKED BY MOST GRAMMARIANS, AND SO SHALL WE DO IT HERE]  you should be happy for them because it’s a big moment in their life. When I went to my grandparents [POSSESSIVE CASE] wedding [COMMA NEEDED AFTER INTRODUCTORY CLAUSE] it was the happies [NOT A WORD] moment.”

The kid does not say if his grandparents were gay.

Look, it’s OK for kids to express their thoughts, brainwashed or otherwise, but for a school writing exercise, this type of dumb-down response should have gone viral for the misuse and abuse of formal writing — and yes, for a healthy educational system, technically correct prose should be a minimal requirement by fourth grade. It is elsewhere in the world.

It was once in the United States.






From three stories in today’s newspapers:

1. A president’s capitulation on campaign-cash reform;

2. A governor’s shady gifts; and

3. A congressman’s sordid fall, followed by his waltz throughWashington’s gilded revolving door.

It’s getting so you can’t scan the news without questioning whether the foundation of a representative democracy – trust in our leaders – is irreversibly shaken.

A fourth story: A Harvard survey of more than 3,100 voters under 30 found that faith in most major institutions is in steep decline. Only 39 percent of young votes trust the president to do the right thing. Just 18 percent trust Congress. Both of those percentages are down from 2010.

It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots between these four stories: The nation’s political institutions are broken, its leadership failed, and the public is fed up.

‘Big Issues Aren’t Being Addressed’

“If you are 24 years old, all you know is petty partisan politics while big issues aren’t getting addressed, while the economy is still struggling,” Trey Grayson, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard told New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg while previewing the survey. “So you wonder whether the governing institutions of your country are up to the task.”

They are not. As I’ve written many times, the problem is much broader than Washington or even the nation’s statehouses. With the exception of the military, Americans are losing faith in virtually every social institution – big business, small business, organized religion, schools, police, the media, the entertainment industry and even entities steeped in tradition such as the Boy Scouts. The list is endless.

(RELATED:“In Nothing We Trust”)

At a macro level, the problem is that society is rapidly changing via technology and the radical connectivity of individuals, and our institutions are slow to adapt. That certainly applies to Washington, where Republicans and Democrats are threatened by the Internet’s hyper-democratization of a process they once monopolized: Organizing and motivating voters.

Coupled with this new phenomenon is an old one: Corrupt and hypocritical leadership. Which brings me back to three headlines:

“Obama Faulted On Campaign Reform:” Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post methodically detailed President Obama’s failure to curb the influence of special interests, a cornerstone of his hope-and-change brand. Her list includes: the transformation of Obama’s re-election campaign into an advocacy group that collects unlimited donations; the failure to pursue a promised constitutional amendment to overturn a Supreme Court opinion enabling corporate campaign donations; the failure to fill a position overseeing ethics and lobbying issues, created two years ago to promote Obama’s reformist credentials; a neglected Federal Election Commission; and Obama’s original sin of rejecting public financing in 2008. Obama shattered fund-raising records in 2012.

Seven reform groups sent the president a letter on Monday expressing their “deep concern about the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system and about your failure, to date, as president to provide meaningful leadership or take effective action to solve this fundamental problem facing our democracy.”

The White House and its allies blame Republicans, justifiably so, for obstructing reform. But, like the rest of his agenda, blaming the GOP for the lack of political reform is a dodge: Obama vowed to change the culture of Washington – period. He didn’t include a caveat for pesky opposition.

“All Puns Asides, Weiner Makes Lucrative Name in Consulting:” Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., left Congress disgraced by his seamy Twitter habits. Recently, he sought a return to public life by portraying himself as a stay-at-home-dad making amends. But the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro reported that Weiner made nearly $500,000 trading on his connections. “Things,” Weiner said, “kind of came over the transom.”

How convenient. Barbaro linked Weiner’s cash grab to “the enduring power of Washington’s revolving door” and said the ex-congressman’s lucrative second career “raises questions about the speed with which he cashed in on his government connections.”

The striking thing about Weiner’s story is that it’s not really striking. Conflicts of interest abound in Washington, where people serve government while finagling private-sector parachutes.

“Probe is Looking at Donors, Governor:” The Washington Post reported that FBI agents are investigating the relationship between Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and a major campaign donor who allegedly paid $15,000 for the food at the wedding of the McDonnell’s daughter. Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and his firm, Star Scientific, gave McDonnell and his political action committee more than $12,000 in publicly disclosed contributions. The governor’s family received other perks, including the use of Williams’ vacation home.

McDonnell has said that Williams is a friend, which presumably is why the first family has promoted Star Scientific at the state-owned governor’s mansion. Whether or not the governor broke any law, he is at a minimum guilty of public relations malpractice.

(RELATED: “End of Government as We Know It”)

A Deepening Public Cynicism

Stories like these three deepen public cynicism. Young voters, in particular, expect more of their leaders because they were weaned on technologies that, in the words of Harvard professor Nicco Mele “empower the individual at the expense of existing institutions and ancient social structures.”

In a new book, “The End of Big,” Mele argues that Americans are not only as mad as hell they are, individually, more powerful. Angry Americans can unite and fix what’s broken. The questions is whether they’re willing to do so. For instance, campaign finance ranked 21st out of 22 issues in a recent Pew Research Center poll, according to the PostAnd so it goes.

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“Tune your music to your heart; / Sing with joy your thanks, and so your sorrow. / Though devotion needs no art, / Sometime of the poor the rich may borrow.”Anonymous 17th century verse.




  1. Bull Durham
    May 3, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Welcome to the Twitter Generation, or rather the Twit Generation. When most of our youth can’t tell you who the Vice President of the United States is or what the Civil War was, do you honestly expect they’ll be able to form a coherent, properly spelled and grammatically correct sentence? You expect too much, Daniel. Plus, how would it look if this kid was ridiculed when we hand out trophies to every kid who plays a sport, whether they win or lose and dole out A’s like they’re Werther’s candies.

    • danvalenti
      May 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      We thought e-mail was having a detrimental effect on writing. Twitter then 12-upped the damage.

  2. Still wondering
    May 3, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    And the teachers want to be set free of the “restrictions” of teaching to the test…MCAS. Seriously?

  3. FPR
    May 3, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    70% of your tax dollars spent on the superior education of these baby geniuses. More tax hikes on the way.

    QE 1, 2, 3 and 4 to save a dying economy that cannot be saved. North Korea threatening to blow up a few countries with nuclear weapons. America threatening to invade Syria and Iran. So, what are 4th graders worried about? Should gays be able get married.

    The America we grew up in is gone.

    • danvalenti
      May 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Yes. Again, the pathetic Pittsfield School Department will pretend it needs more money (as opposed to greater control of the classroom, higher academic standards, and a dress code that is taken seriously) and all its problems will go away. The school committee will pretend to agree. The mayor will pretend he’s not afraid to speak truthfully about the waste of the public education dollar. The city council will pretend to provide fiscal review, calling “rubber stamping” “restraint.” That’s a whole lot of pretense that will cost taxpayers a whole lot of money.

      • Shakes His Head
        May 6, 2013 at 9:55 am #

        If you piss off the public employees unions, you won’t get reelected. That’s why Bianchi lost to Ruberto the first time. And that’s why there has been no discernible change in city operations during his tenure.

  4. Downtown Dweller
    May 3, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    It’s not just youth or the MCAS generations who have difficulty with the English language in written form. Too many people, unfortunately some of them post those same errors here, don’t know the difference among homonyms such as to, too, two or
    there, they’re or their. Through and threw are interchangeable in too many people’s writings. They don’t know the difference between than (comparison) and then (sequencing). The Eagle recently printed a Letter to the Editor with that error in it. The difference between the singular “woman” and plural “women” is lost on some writers. Or when to use apostrophes (contractions and possessives).

    When the errors are pointed out many if not most people become offended and defensive, “You understood what I was trying to say.” yet will rip into the mistakes that this fourth grader made. I agree the writer needs to be taught proper usage of the language however if the adults take a casual attitude toward the proper use of the language, how can we expect children to learn?

    Ok, I’m getting off my soapbox now.

    • Relax
      May 3, 2013 at 12:07 pm #


      Well said. One of the best books on writing nonfiction is William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” And, of course, everyone should have a copy of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

      You are correct, unfortunately, that most adults are lacking in basic grammatical skills. People will accuse you of being a schoolmarm if you point out basic mistakes, but most businesses simply will not hire a person who lacks these skills.

      • danvalenti
        May 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

        In COMP I, I use an essay from “On Writing Well.” I used to require “Elements of Style.” Today, it’s recommended. Our stylebook for COMP I and COMP II is Jane Aaron’s “The Little, Brown Compact Handbook,” still the best there is. Diane Hacker’s “On Writing Well” is a close second.

    • danvalenti
      May 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Great post, DD.

  5. Relax
    May 3, 2013 at 10:51 am #


    I agree with you that the U.S. needs to move away from an educational year based on the agrarian calendar. As you say, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation to give its student the entire summer off. No other profession demands three months of vacation in its CBA.

    But, shouldn’t the title of the play be “The Extant Kathies”?

    • danvalenti
      May 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      Right you are, RELAX, and the change has been made. The agrarian school calendar makes as much sense as typewriters for classrooms. The 230-day school year would do away with the summer vacation and spread break out more evenly throughout the year.

  6. Silence Dogood
    May 3, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    good luck on extending the school year….wouldn’t that cut into vacations at the cape?

  7. Pat
    May 3, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    Unfortunately the main mission of modern schools is to teach political correctness. Subjects like proper grammar have fallen to the wayside because it’s the agenda that the schools are promoting that is the important thing so that children grow up parroting these beliefs and that these beliefs are then passed on to their children and on it goes. Nobody actually questions the agenda because it is simply not done as it would not be politically correct to do so.

    The schools want children to be smart, but not too smart and certainly independent thought is discouraged. Independent thought would not encourage “Group Think”. Remember that for young people it’s very important to be socially accepted and to be part of the herd. Since schools do not encourage “thinking outside the box”, the young people will never do it on their own because of their intense desire to be like everyone else. If everyone else is mindlessly promoting a certain social agenda, the idealistic young people will usually accept it and not question it because “everyone else is doing it” or “everyone else thinks the same way”. The schools know what they are doing.

    • danvalenti
      May 3, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      Well expressed. Group Think creates the antithesis of free thought. My philosophy of education is that, overall, it should be a process that makes one into a thinker. That involves mental disciplines (memorization being one of the most important) that, as you point out, PAT, have unfortunately been ditched for political correctness.

  8. Scott
    May 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    At least the expression of an individual idea was encouraged and celebrated. (even if the assumed individual idea can be debated as an indoctrination of tolerance for an abnormal condition.) I agree it should have been corrected, edited and rewritten before being submitted to the public eye.

  9. taxmano
    May 4, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Memorization does NOT promote critical thinking. Also, the external pressures promoting teaching to the test is exactly why you see errors like the ones in the fourth grader’s essay. What gets tested is what gets taught, and filling in a bubble requires no knowledge of grammar.

    • danvalenti
      May 5, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      TAX MAN
      Memorization is a form of training for the later gift of critical thinking. You do not want children in the lower grades, six and below, to perform “critical thinking” as we know it. You DO want to give them exercises that promote mental agility (something that can now be proven as a physical fact through brain analysis). Memorization cannot be beat for that task, and from K-6, it becomes a vital predictor of later intellectual accomplishment. These are the facts.

  10. tito
    May 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Yo Valenti, stop using dos CAPS.

    • danvalenti
      May 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm #


  11. Scott
    May 5, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    I’m not going to get into detail but an old friend of mine has written a letter to the courts pleading for a man he swears he and I have proof is innocent and his “professional letter” has so many grammatical structure and spelling mistakes it makes the kid who wrote the letter about gays having the right to marry look like a scholar. You’d think one would use spell check the fact that it was written on a PC and printed makes it even worse! Not that I’m an excellent writer who never makes a mistake or anything but at least I make an attempt to respect the rules and be somewhat coherent. Posting online is one thing if I wanted someone to take me seriously I’d make sure whatever I was writing was well written and free of mistakes I mean spell check this guy is a IT computer guy too! (I’m sorry I mean “security expert”! lol)