Thursday, May 16, 2013

Do your sailors have a library card?

Ask this question at your next divisional quarters: how many of your sailors actually read books?

We all have funny stories about the terrible English skills of our sailors. I always joke that English is a secondary language for Chiefs, and sadly, the EVAL inputs I get reflect this.

But why is this? I have decent English skills. At the very least, I use spell check and can complete a sentence with a coherent thought. I didn't go to a fancy school or get one-on-one tutoring. And I know plenty of sailors that have a similar upbringing, and yet fall prey to poor English.

I see a few causes. Here are some questions you should ask at your next divisional quarters:

1. How many sailors have a library card? People don't read books after high school. Ask your sailors at your next division quarters how many have a library card, or have read a full book on their Kindle/iPad/e-reader. I'd be surprised if you got over 25% (feel free to share your results in the comments). Considering that most on-base libraries now use your CAC and registration is free, it's unacceptable to not register at your local library. Unless it's a maintenance manual or somehow directly related to their job though, most of the sailors I talk to don't read.

2. How many sailors actually read more than 6 full novels in high school? People didn't read books in high school. Not that they didn't read, they just didn't read a full book. In 6th-8th grade I remember we used a textbook in English class that had snippets of different novels. These snippets were supposed to teach us English, but in reality they were terrible. In my 9th grade English class, I read 6 full length novels, something my friends at other high schools didn't do. The difference was amazing. When you read a full-length novel, you get the opportunity to digest the whole story. You pick up on writing style, on how frequently the author uses alliterations, or on how infrequently the author uses periods (in the case of every William Faulkner novel I've read). It makes you question what you like and don't like...and subsequently develop your own style. Snippets don't teach that.

3. How many sailors have written a paper more than 8 pages in length? People don't write anything over one page. In JPME Phase I, I had to write a number of essays. The page limit on one essay was 10 pages. I mentioned this to a colleague, who thought that was a lot. When I told him I was having trouble cutting DOWN the number of pages, he was mortified. Ten page essays on a topic that has any depth to it are easy. By writing these essays, I learned how to tighten up my language while getting my points across. You can't develop that skill from writing 140 character Tweets, short explanations for your last Facebook "Like," or sending quick responses on email.

If you want your sailors to stop giving you crap EVAL might want to make them read something that isn't crap. Start with the Navy's reading list (available free at most libraries) and see what difference it makes.