Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos should not be confirmed

Recently Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos has been in the news for her use of a particular sentence. She was quoted as saying, “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow” in a written response to a question about LGBT rights submitted by Democrats in Congress. [emphasis added] However, that response may not be an original thought.

The Washington Post first noted that this response was substantially similar to that of Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, who said in a May press release, “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive, and grow.” [emphasis added] The controversy over attribution as to the origins of the sentence appears to me to miss a more substantial point which all involved have demonstrated their deficiencies by not raising.

Pronoun agreement requires that the antecedent and its following pronoun be equal - either plural or singular. Words such as each and every are singular while all is plural. Thus each and every are followed by a singular noun such as child, mouse, or thought while all would be followed by the plurals of those nouns, being children, mice, or thoughts. The pronoun to follow child is singular. The singular pronouns of child are he and she. The plural pronoun is they.

Not germane to the particular sentence at bar but worth noting is that multiple singular antecedents are followed by a plural pronoun. The dog and cat went into their yard. They acted together and became a plural. Each and every create a special circumstance though. The use of these qualifiers produce a singular antecedent which is to be followed by a singular pronoun. Each car and truck was parked in its own space. The cars and trucks all acted individually and are therefore singular.

To correct the sentence in question the pronoun could be revised to give us “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where he or she can learn, thrive, and grow.” While technically correct this is stylistically awkward. A revision that sound more appealing to the ear may be “All children deserve to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow”

This is elementary grammar. Yet, someone who is a candidate to be the Secretary of the US Department of Education failed to adhere to simple grammatical construction in a written response. That in itself demonstrates grounds for disqualification to hold that position. Don't count on it being used for that purpose though because those who are set to decide whether to confirm her aren't interested in such issues as proper grammar usage. Is it any wonder that students in the United States continue to perform lower compared to a growing amount of students from other countries when the leaders of our country don't care?

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