Ooops: Chicago Trib Starts an Article on Education Misusing Words!

-By Warner Todd Huston

Clarence Page wrote an excellent article questioning whether or not our students are actually learning anything, most especially critical thinking skills, at our colleges and universities. Unfortunately, his very first sentence commits what I feel is both a major grammatical error and an unnecessary paean to PCism.

First, let me temper this little quibble — and little quibble it is — with praise for Page’s article headlined, “Has College Become too Easy?.”

Page offers some studies as well as an anecdote to explore the hypothesis that our students are no longer expected to think in college. They are simply required to regurgitate the subject matter fed them by their professors and teachers. No thinking required.

I believe this is dead on. I can’t tell you how many people I know that went to college that simply have no capacity to think past the conventional wisdom fed them by TV, the Old Media or friends.

Anyway, I agree with Page’s central concept. But let’s get to his faux pas.

Here is how Page begins his piece (my emphasis):

You can lead a student to knowledge, according to an old academic saying, but you can’t make him or her think.

Crikies. “Him or her”? This is a big bugaboo of mine. It drives me nuts to see people adding “him or her” all the time for fear of being called a sexist.

The proper way to have written that would have simply been, “…but you can’t make him think.”

There is absolutely no reason to add the “or her” to the sentence. It is clumsy, for one thing, unnecessary of course, and just a stupid paean to political correctness because using the male pronoun in this sentence is gender neutral already.

You see, whenever you use the generic words him, his, or he, you are saying “people.” You are NOT limiting your scope to males. “Him” in the case of Page’s opening sentence would have simply meant all students, not just males.

Remember, “all men are create equal,” does not mean just men. It means man, as in humanity.

Filed under: Education, Media


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  • Mr. Page is not guilty as charged. He was merely filling a void in our language with an acceptable locution (according to the American Heritage College Dictionary). Other than 'it',English does not have a gender-neutral pronoun. Using 'him or her' has nothing to do with political correction or feminism. English writers recognized the problem centuries ago. Matter of fact, great writers like Shakespeare and Chaucer and others freely used 'they' or 'their' to fill the same void. I hope you are not a grammaticaste, "a petty, self-styled expert in grammar, usually a niggling, precious type who can stab a bony finger at a dangling participle or split infinitive but lacks a true appreciation of writing in all its riches and varied styles. The rule-conscious pedant who sees writing not as good or bad, but as right or wrong".

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Oh, and I try to be as grammatically proper as my education on the matter permits. I am no expert, for sure!

  • There was no void to fill. It is merely PCism writ large.

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