In my family, I happen to be the oldest of all my siblings. On the opposite end of the spectrum from me is my kid brother who just recently graduated from high school. Let me tell you about this character. As a star athlete, my little brother was one of the most popular kids in his high school. And the fact that he can dance like Chris Brown and Usher all but secured his permanent status among the "cool kids" and guaranteed his inclusion at all the parties where "anybody who's anybody" was sure to be in attendance. In short, he was your quintessential teenager living the American dream. Similarly, his entourage of young men and young women were equally as popular and successful in the high school universe. All of them, including my brother, can recite the lyrics of the latest Drake or Nicki Minaj song at the drop of a dime and will argue with you to no end as to why they are the greatest rappers of all time. In addition to music, all of them, including my brother, have all the latest gadgetry when it comes to electronic communication tools. Blackberries and iPhones come standard issue with this group, and each device is, of course, equipped with the most current software applications for Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry messenger, AOL instant messenger, text messaging, etc. You name it, they've got it. If a kid so much as picked his nose in the back of Mr. Wilson's math class at 10:16am, by 10:17am 1500 other kids all over the school had status updates and live stream video of the same event.
This generation's rapid adaptation and instant utilization of state of the art communication devices and electronic media is arguably unparalleled by any prior generation in American history. There's just one minor problem for my kid brother and his generation of IDK LOL OMG bandits: these kids can't f***ing read!!!
Don't get me wrong, of course they can literally "read," but it's more like "reading" in the sense that somebody who can type the letters "IDK my BFF Jill" can "read." If you tried to push them for actual coherent sentences with a noun and verb then Houston, we've got a problem. At first I thought it was only my kid brother who had trouble with reading and writing at a high school graduate level, but then I started looking at his facebook wall and I quickly saw that he was not alone:
- Kid A: "That sho was wacc foo." [she's trying to say "That show was wack, fool." I can let the "foo" slide but how do you misspell "Wack"??? That means you can't even get your insults right.]
- Kid B: "Ha ha, sho was what u up to?" [this kid's trying to respond to Kid A with "Haha, it sure was. What are you up to?" Notice there is no period at the end of the first thought. Just one run-on stream of communication. Very common.]
- Kid A: "Jus chillin tell i go to the mall." ["Just chillin' until I go to the mall."]
- Kid C: "U2 don't no nothin about the mall." ["You two don't know anything about the mall."]
- Kid A: "No U don't no nothing about the mall!" ["No, you don't know anything about the mall!" Sometimes you can have a brain fart and use the word "no" when you meant to type "know" but this kid particularly bothered me because she used the incorrect usage immediately after she used the correct usage, indicating that in all likelihood she is probably unaware of when to use the word "know" at all]
- Kid B: "haha, ur both wacc." ["Haha, you're both wack." Again, they're killing me with this "wacc" business.]
For fear of sounding like a "back in my day we walked uphill to school both ways" speech, I'll refrain from the condescending generational comparisons. Besides, knowing how to speak the King's English has less to do with one's generation and more to do with proper parenting and schooling. From that standpoint, I have to place a majority of the blame for my brother's shortcomings squarely on myself; I've been away from home for some time but there's no reason why I should have a bachelor's degree and a law degree and my own kid brother is struggling to read at a junior high/middle school level after having graduated from high school. (I would go in on the school system but that's another post for another day)
I will say, however, that one thing I've noticed about my brother's class is that they're all about the instant messaging. Their communications with each other are limited to 140 characters or less. That's cool if you already know how to read and write on an adult level, but if that's ALL that you know then that kind of limited interaction doesn't exactly develop critical thinking, let alone the ability to form complete sentences. And for many of the young Black youth who are already at a disadvantage from under resourced schools and lack of educational encouragement in the home, it is particularly damaging.
This isn't to say that Facebook, Blackberry messenger, Twitter, etc. don't have their purpose. Of course they do. But keep in mind, when all these quick communication tools were developed, they were originally aimed at helping to provide a quick means of communication for those of us who were already educated with regard to formal communication. Naturally, we would never use shorthand "IDK's" or "NVM"s in our professional communications with clients or bosses or in our final exams to our professors. We know when to turn it off. These kids don't. And the more technology advances, the easier it is for them to fall into this trap.
Fortunately, my kid brother has a family who actually gives a damn about whether or not he is reading and writing at an adult level, but I know that there are plenty of families out there who don't. That's why it is incumbent upon us, as a community, to really start taking an active role in making sure that our youth are being educated properly, especially in something as fundamental as knowing how to read and write. In this new era, we can no longer sit back and assume that the schools will take care of everything. They can not and they are not. These new millennium kids are going to require the whole village. I'm not saying that you have to quit your day job and go volunteer full time down at the Y, but certainly we can all make a conscience effort to do our own part: talk to the youngsters in your family more often; make them write you on a regular basis; when they do write, make them write out actual e-mail messages as opposed to short text messages; don't allow them to use shorthand with you; ask them what they're learning in school; encourage them to aim higher and do better...because, contrary to popular belief, there is no app for that.