GIBSONBURG, Ohio -- They (my eighth-graders) say, "It don't make no difference how we talk." I say, "Oh yes it do." They say, "You just used bad grammar!" I say, "How's come ya' notice it when I use it but you don't never hear it when you do it?"
They say, "Whatta' we need to talk so perfect for, anyway?" I say, "Because you will be forever judged by the way you speak and if you use poor grammar you will be branded ignorant."
They say, "So what? Everybody at my house talks the same way I do. Are you calling my family ignorant?" I say, "Gulp!"
It's an uphill battle I'm fighting in this thankless war for good grammar, what with the Philistines outnumbering me at every turn, but I hang in there and keep on nagging.
Annie says, "Ms. Schuett, can me and Joy go out in the hall and read our essays out loud?" I say, "NO!" Both little girls stare in momentary disbelief until Joy catches on and pokes Annie saying, "Ya' gotta ask right."
Annie says, "May Joy and I go into the hall to read our essays aloud?" I say (with a sigh of relief because they really do know better), "Yes, you may."
Danny asks, "Why does everybody gotta talk just right?" I answer, "So that people may communicate clearly and without misunderstanding. Without language," I remind him, "we might as well be back in the caves beating our chests and grunting."
Tommy says that's the way everybody talks at his cave -- I mean house -- and they are getting along just fine, thank you very much. "My little brother, Benny, he don't hafta' talk at all. He yells and points and gets whatever he wants." I mutter a silent prayer of thanks that I'll be out of here long before Benny makes it to the eighth grade.
Danny tries to explain. "We gotta talk cool, Ms. Schuett, and it ain't cool to use good grammar."
"Sez who?" I demand.
"Them guys on television."
Oh. Why didn't I think of that?
"Danny," I say, unready to give up, "what if you walked into this class and I said something like, 'Hey, youse guys, siddown and shut up because today I'm gonna learn you how ta' write some stuff.' What would you think?"
Wasting my time
Danny thinks it over and lays it on me. "I'd think you were stupid. I'd wonder why I was wasting my time in here." Occasionally, although I can't admit it to Danny, I wonder the same thing myself.
Each September the process begins anew. "Hey, I seen that movie with them moon creatures in it."
"NO!" I shout, bringing all conversation to a screeching halt. "I saw that movie with those moon creatures in it." Invariably, some wise guy will shoot back, "Oh, you seen it too?"
"Where'd ya' see it at?" always triggers the "NEVER! NEVER! end a sentence with 'at' " lecture, which inevitably leads to, "Why do you pick on us?"
"Because I love you and I want your grammar to be superior. And if it ain't I'm going to beat on you with a stick!"
Slowly, as the school year progresses, we slog our way through the minefield of grammar gaffes. They sin and I nag.
Then one day the miracle happens. Danny blasted through the classroom door, flopped into our old La-Z-Boy and heaved a pathetic sigh. "Gross! My gym shorts are gross! They've got this big rip in the seat. They need sewed."
Before my nag trigger could trip, Sally piped up: "Need TO BE sewed, dummy. 'To be or not to be. . . .' If it's good enough for Shakespeare it's good enough for you."
Is it possible that maybe I've made a little difference?
Elizabeth Schuett is a writer for the Cox News Service.