Education These Here Now Days

My friend D, who is 16 and in high school, had a grammatical question for her teachers the other day.

She wanted to know the difference between “who” and “whom”. She asked multiple (more than two) English teachers, none of whom gave her an answer. None of them knew or remembered. My favorite answer was (paraphrased): “No one uses whom any more. It doesn’t matter.”

This is going to be best colony of the Chinese Empire ever!

17 thoughts on “Education These Here Now Days

  1. “No one uses whom any more. It doesn’t matter.”
    Paraphrased or not, oh my god!
    I’ll never forget my 10th grade English teacher saying “Irregardless” and when I told her that was redundant and/or a double negative, and just plain wrong, she said she was only human and that everyone makes mistakes. My English teacher is there to teach me English, not to make up words. Pissed me off.

    1. “English”
      I still have nightmares about my blithering English teachers. It’s like public school “English teacher” now means anyone who has written bad poetry, has asperations of being inspired and inspirational, and has the inane patience to wade thru getting a teaching credential. Kill me now, before the Oprahs get me!!

    1. Subject versus object
      But normally I just say “use ‘whom’ only immediately after a preposition, and only if it doesn’t sound horrible”. Because case in English, especially with discontiguous preposational phrases (“Whom’s he asking about?”?!), is just a huge mess of abstruseness and inaccessability technicalities.
      I’d rather that students practice making relative clauses that don’t sound like J-Loese (“That was the best meal I’ve ever done!” (mismatched subordinate verb), “It’s in this message that he already sent me it.” (a pronoun in the subordinate clause where there should just be a gap)).

  2. I is good at speling and grammars
    You use “whom” in the same sort of place in which you would use “him” and “who” in the same place as “he,” right? I seem to recall something like that, but I actually do not believe I learned it in school. More likely, I think it was in a “pedantic guide to the English language” sort of trivia book. It was not “Eats, Shoots, & Leaves,” as that is pretty recent, but I think it was in some book like that about 10-15 years ago.
    P.S. Ah, yes. A Google search brings me to this page, which summarizes it nicely.

    1. Re: I is good at speling and grammars
      see the thread with miss_education. yeah, it’s subject and object.
      but that’s not important right now. what’s important is that a high school english teacher didn’t know and didn’t think it mattered.

      1. Re: I is good at speling and grammars
        Yeah–I did not see the comment, as I started writing before it was there, but then the president of the company strolled in to the office, and by the time I hit the “Post Comment” button, a bunch of other replies had slipped in.
        Having talked with some friends who are young and enthusiastic high school teachers up here, it really does not surprise me that the teachers did not think it mattered. The older, less enthusiastic teachers care less and the younger teachers either will not or cannot teach their strong subjects. For instance, one of the teachers I know is an English and history whiz, but is teaching math. Part of this is because it is easier to get a science/math teacher job, but he himself admits that he does not want to teach the subject he is passionate about to a bunch of apathetic students year after year, as that could end up ruining the subject for him. He has less emotion invested in math and it is easier to get a job, so he teaches that. Yes, it is f’ed up and backward and wrong on a bunch of different levels, but it does make some kind of twisted, backward sense.

      2. Re: I is good at speling and grammars
        *Does* it matter? I mean, I hear a lot of gnashing of teeth over the prospect of losing “whom”, but strangely no one seems to miss “whence”. And you just plain sound stupid if you say “It is I”.
        I’d rather we regroup and focus our energy on the distinction between adjectives and adverbs.

      3. Re: I is good at speling and grammars
        It matters in that 1) If you don’t know the difference between the subject and the object you’re going to sound like a freakin’ idiot to the English-speaking world and 2) Whether it matters or not, a teacher of high school English should be able to answer that question without blinking.

      4. This is true.
        There’s a song that I love by the Old ’97s that misuses “whom” during the chorus and I wince every time that line comes up. It just sounds horribly wrong. Because it is wrong. And it ruined a really fabulous song. Argh.
        In a very small way, I lost respect for a band I love over an object pronoun. It does make a difference.
        It’s fine to use colloquialisms like “it’s me” in writing, if your intention is to sound (read) like you are speaking. But using “whom” instead of “who” is wrong, whether you are speaking or writing. If shit like that is alllowed to be passed off as a colloquialism, then I’m dumping this crappy excuse for a lingua franca and moving on to one that cares.

      5. Re: This is true.
        “It is I” is prescribed english, via an improper analogy to Latin.
        The fact that the teacher’s didn’t grok the who/whom distinction doesn’t bother me so much. Whom is an obsolete form. It’s a symptom of how teachers have lost connection with a traditional curriculum, but it’s not in itself all that terrible.
        My real problem: I was a volunteer tutor for a while, in an afterschool program run by professional teachers, and I was the only person who could understand a line of Shakespeare.
        Ditto on what Torgo said, but I don’t blame the teachers. They’re nice people who like kids and have (fewer options|greater stamina) to deal with the ridiculous school systems we have. I blame the system for not making better teachers or providing the environment that would attract better talent.

  3. it’s very heartening to know that most English teachers know less than most copyeditors.
    i wish your friend would write an angry (anonymous) letter to the local newspaper.

  4. I use whom. I learned it when I was a kid, like this:
    Mom: Knock knock?
    Me: Who’s there?
    Mom: Fuck.
    Me (suspiciously): Fuck who?
    Mom: No, fuck whom!
    Really. Unforgettable.

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