Tuesday, June 8, 2010

For language, against slashing punctuation

"Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects" is the official title of the document discussed in the previous post.  Given my overall enthusiasm, you might well ask whether there's a single key stroke I don't like.  The answer is yes.  I despise that slash mark between history and social studies.

I want my punctuation marks to flow smoothly into speech. Commas and periods and question marks all adjust how words are pronounced, without needing to be named. The written ampersand easily becomes the spoken "and."  A slash mark doesn't work that way. To read it out loud, a person has to say "slash."  

More than that, the slash mark is a dodge.  It fails to explain how the words on either side go together.  Are they a pair that belong together?  Are they alternatives that should be used separately? Writers who use slash marks look to me like thinkers who have not yet finished thinking.

Here, I suspect a compromise.  Some advocates push for making history  the lead subject, with civics, economics, and geography as back-up singers.  Others insist that social studies is an effective way of combining multiple fields that deserve equal standing.  The  slash mark looks like splitting the difference between the two approaches, perhaps avoiding a huge battle and a long delay.

Even so, it's ugly writing, incomplete thinking, and an approach to language unlikely to be used outside of quotation marks on this blog.


  1. Oh, Susan, how you make my day. :) Hope you recall me from our early SBDM days in the '90s. I was "Pasley" back then. I teach high school English now! Take your blog national. The New York Times could use your wit!

  2. Kim, is that you? Memorable OEA/KDE you? Mother of the memorable and wonderful Prichard intern? If you're that James-formerly-Pasley, I certainly recall the delights of working with you.

    If you're another K-formerly-Pasley, do send me a couple more letters after the K, and I bet I'll remember you, too.

  3. HA HA! 'Tis me, 'tis me. I stand accused and convicted. Glad you have made the acquaintance of my "mini-me." She's graduated and accepted a one-year staff position at Centre College in the Student Life Office. Our times together were epic... we should write a book! I teach at Eminence High School now. Email me sometime. I'm available for workgroups, panels, overall what-do-you-thinks. :)

  4. I disagree that the slash represents incomplete thinking. As an elementary teacher who teaches social studies, I don't call it "history." I teach geography, culture, economics, history, and government - the five branches of social studies. As students progress to high school, they take individual classes such as "history" or "geography", etc. Since the core standards address students K-12, I think the slash in the title was meant to address teachers' classes throughout the grade levels represented. There are so many wonderful things about these new standards I'm ready to celebrate because they will make my job in the classroom more efficient and streamlined; it was disheartening that you focused on something so trivial as a slash mark in the title.


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