I was driving into work this morning listening to National Public Radio and a segment featuring two teenaged boys discussing their education came on after an update on Egypt. The presenter gave them a glowing introduction, mentioning that they both wrote for VOX (Voice of Our Generation), a publication written by and for Atlanta teens. My interest was immediately piqued. I love to hear success stories about our up-and-coming youth doing well. The first gentleman (his name escapes me because it doesn’t even really matter – and after I tell you what he said next, or rather HOW – you’ll see why not), spoke first in very measured tones.
“I take my education very, very, very serious,” he said by way of introduction.
“You mean ‘I take my education seriously’,” I thought out loud. “But carry on.”
“I’m taking like, world history, and I asked my teacher like ‘What do I have to do to pass this class?’. And he said, like, I have to know EVERYTHING. How am I supposed to remember the history of the whole world?”
He laughed flippantly. His compatriot laughed and chimed in.
“I know! I like, study for math for hours on end. Don’t you think it’s crazy how people just slide by in their education, and you like, study so hard? I can sit on my bed doing my math homework at 5 pm, and like look up, and the sun is like coming up!”
“Yeah dude! Dude. It’s like crazy. What are like, your aspirations?”
After this point I zoned out. I didn’t, like, want to know what he was aspiring towards.
For starters, both of them could begin with using the work “like” a lot less in their conversation, particularly if both are well aware that said conversation is meant to be broadcast across the entire state…possibly even the nation.
But then that got me to thinking. Why do teens employ ‘fillers’ in their speech? My Kindergartner doesn’t, and she is assumed to have a poorer grasp on communication patterns than an average adolescent. She makes her requests and desires know clearly and concisely, rarely using “umm” and “like” when expressing herself. Perhaps she is unique.
I remember I was a dumb teen once and I have recently recognized another reason to be grateful for my secondary education in Ghana. Neither of my literature or grammar instructors would tolerate the use of ‘fillers’ during verbal exams. For me, that was extremely difficult. My filler of choice was “umm”. For the 2 or 3 other American girls in my class it was “like”. I can’t recall how my Ghanaian teachers broke me of the habit, but I believe it might have involved getting a point deduction for every “umm” I inserted in my verbal delivery.
“‘Umm’ is not a word,” I vaguely recall Mr. Quist dryly informing me, borderline disgust registering all over his face. His eyes were always half closed, as though whatever this sweaty 16 year old student was saying was of no consequence, had little impact on the world, and that he might fall asleep at any moment while you were giving your best explanation as to why Madame Bovary was such a crazy, ungrateful bitch. He reeked of sarcasm and smuggery (it’s always been one of my favorite things about him). At the time, I suppose I thought using “umm” made me sound very intelligent. I mean, like, all the American kids were doing it in the movies I watched! I resented Mr. Quist and that other Lit teacher from GIS for being so like, uncool.
Oh, but thank GOD they were having no part of it. Sadly, millions of students will go through life without a Mr. Quist. Listening to American teens (and most adults) talk makes my teeth hurt. To think I could be a part of their ranks makes me shiver inwardly. To prove my point, I offer you this video featuring this nation’s best and brightest in that all American platform used to display excellence: The beauty pageant.