Thursday, February 17, 2005


I’m normally a placid, peaceful person. But when I see really lousy writing, especially by people who should know better, I kind of writhe around in agony. Well, I was wondering if Omaha’s beloved and avuncular billionaire, Warren Buffett, has done any of that lately.

See, Buffett was honored last week for his wise and folksy writing in the Berkshire Hathaway annual report. That’s a well-deserved honor; he’s not only considerably richer than me, he’s a better writer and (sob!) funnier! Of course, I’m a lot cuter and make better Oatmeal Scotchies, so it evens out. Anyway, it was a good thing that he won that award. A group headed by former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, himself a pretty good writer and now a constantly-networking, new-age college president in New York City, gave Buffett the accolade.

The group is the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges:
www.writingcommission.org It was set up by the College Board to prime the pump for the new Politically Correct twist on the SAT, the writing assessment. You know: write an essay based on their “prompt” and prove yourself to be politically and socially radical, or heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to the community college you go.

In any event, this commission appears to be at least taking a stab at helping teachers teach writing, though I’m still skeptical, mainly because Kerrey is called the “chair” of this group. What? Do they SIT on him?

I’m also doubtful because there are a bunch of libs on the commission’s board whose ideology is the opposite of what good writing instruction requires: phonics, grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, sentence diagramming, vocabulary development, quality books written in quality language . . . all the stuff that public schools don’t do any more.

Worst among them is Diana Lam, the former assistant chancellor of the New York City public schools. She got fired for trying to give her husband a six-figure job in the school system, but her wacko, left-wing policies were really the cause of the job tenure readjustment. She put a horrible pseudo-phonics program in place that, if you can believe this, actually made NYC kids lose ground in reading. Then she resisted the reform of the bilingual education program so that an astoundingly-small 3.7 percent of the English language learners transitioned into the mainstream classroom. Most of them remained warehoused in non-English speaking language ghettos at horrific public expense.

Anyway, at least this commission recognizes that Warren Buffett is a good model for corporate communications. Now that he’s been honored for his writing, though, wonder what Uncle Warren and the Commission would say about the Buffett Foundation’s persistent denial that grammar and spelling matter?

See Go Big Ed’s archives for Nov. 9, 2004, about how year after year, the Buffett Foundation’s full-page ad announcing that nominations for fifteen $10,000 awards for great teaching in memory of Alice Buffett don’t have to be well-written.

That’s right! That’s what they say. It’s a head-scratcher. The foundation solicits letters of nomination for great teachers, but assures you, “don’t worry about grammar and spelling – these letters won’t be graded.”

Say what?

Now, for years, I’ve hoped that Warren Buffett would misspell his name as “Susan Williams” on a check to himself for, say, seventy skillion dollars. But he never will, because he really is a good writer. And good writers are always, ahem, smart.

So I hope he does something about this. Wuzzup, Warren? Wake up! This is . . . wong.

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