In high school, I soon found that I had a very hard time in the study of English. I simply could not grasp all of the rules that were supposed to apply. Some might argue, that I still have yet to have mastered the subject. I can envision the English teachers at Arvin High School, passing out 30 copies of each weeks Arvin Tiller Newspaper, then saying, “And now class, we are going to correct the grammar and English usage of Mr. Norris’s latest story.”
Fortunately, Mr. Wright, my freshman English teacher, took a special interest in my problem and gave me some one-on-one English tutoring after school. During these sessions, he kept saying, “You know Dave; you make the same errors in tense usage that we quite often see with foreign exchange students.” Now, I was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. My mother and I moved to California, crossing the California border on my birthday, at the tender age of one. Other than the occasional summer trip back to Kentucky, I have never left California.
When I was in the Future Farmers of American, Parliamentary Procedure Team, part of the prepared speech each officer had to say, required me to say the word, “south”, but, I pronounced it “souf” and Mr. Dake would go ballistic each time I said my spiel. Likewise, I said “Hawayee” for Hawaii. More than once, Mr. Dake lost it and would stomp out of the room muttering to himself in frustration. When I finally did figure out what I was doing wrong, I could not figure out where I had picked up all of my bad speech habits.
One night at dinner, my Mom and Dad, both of whom had only completed the eighth grade, were talking about that days happening. As mom said, “Warsh yer face n’ hans …. and come ta dinner.” I started hearing in my parents speech, the same errors that the teachers had been trying to correct in my language. I discovered, right then and there, that the King’s English was my second language. My homeland language was “Okie!”
This explained why I was having such a hard time in school. True, I did not have the tobacco drool coming from the corner of my mouth, well – not most of the time anyway. It became clear to me that the English teachers were trying to teach me “onea them furrin languages” that I had heard about.
When I got to Bakersfield Junior College, they shook their heads at my English scores and started me out with English-XA, then English-XB, better known as “Bonehead English.” I was the only one I knew at Bakersfield College that had English-S, (Spelling) all four semesters in a row.
The first day of each semester, we were given a spelling test and if you did not pass it, you were automatically signed up into English-S. Mr. Culver, my counselor, taught that class. He would hold roll call to familiarize himself with all of the student’s names and faces on the first day. Before starting the roll call, he would peer into the quite large room and say, “ Oh, Hi Dave, I see your back.”
Finally, on the last semester I passed the English-S in mid-term, much to Mr. Culver’s amazement. On a more favorable note, I found that speech also fulfilled the English requirement. I had few problems with the spoken word, provided I stayed away from the words south and Hawaii, so I cruised thru the second year English requirements with few problems.
Since leaving college, my profession has required me to write extremely critical reports, under the watchful-eye of trial lawyers and Engineers. Unbelievably, I was hired as the company proofreader for a company with 10 inspectors. One of our most experienced inspectors could not be convinced that “vertical” could not be spelled “verticle”. After four years, I still had to ferret all of the misspellings out of his reports, week, after week, after week.
The kids today have it easy with their portable electronic dictionaries and laptop computers, which not only note common misspellings for them, but some of those devices also auto-correct the words in questions without the writer having to perform different keystrokes to change the spelling.
While these are great labor saving device for the kids, the kids do not have to learn through trial and error. It is important to achieve sweat equity, learning how to spell the words in question correctly and this is part of the demise of America today. Just like the McDonald’s cashier, trying to make change from their cash drawer when the power goes out and the computer does not tell them how much change to give back.
As strange as it may seem, I now have people actually asking me how to spell words and I am actually correctly able to help them, provided we stay away from “souf” and “Hawayee,” because there is still some “Arvin-Okie” in me.