Education: CAN'T ANYONE HERE SPEAK ENGLISH?

The Americans," Walt Whitman wrote in the 1850s, "are going to be the most fluent and melodious-voiced people in the world, and the most perfect users of words." The line was more hopeful than prophetic. Today, many believe that the American language has lost not only its melody but a lot of its meaning. Schoolchildren and even college students often seem disastrously ignorant of words; they stare, uncomprehending, at simple declarative English. Leon Botstein, president of New York's Bard College, says with glum hyperbole: "The English language is dying, because it is...

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