Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time

by by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson

After his five-year college reunion, editor and writer Deck was left looking for a last road trip that he could infuse with meaning. Hitting upon the idea of correcting “typos” (read: mistakes based on poor literacy skills) found in public signs, he and a friend formed the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Typo Eradication Advancement League and started on their quest, armed with Sharpies and correction fluid. It’s all fun and games until the friends make the naïve mistake of correcting a sign on public land, and they are accused of vandalism.

This was a fun read; quirky adventure stories with a hook more or less write themselves. But while Deck (who is the sole narrator) is an engaging, affable voice, I was a little put off by his conceptualization of how typos come about, which is arrestingly naïve: deep into his quest, he notes “we thought we saw evidence that these [grammatical and spelling] essentials weren’t being fully acquired by the populace.” This is such a wishy-washy cop-out with so many qualifiers – it’s obvious Deck doesn’t want to come off as an educated elitist – that it borders on self-parody. The plain fact is that these are not “typos” at all, but errors made by a public too stupid to know how to study or read and too proud of ignorance to care. But Deck doesn’t want to admit that, so he comes across to me as spineless. It isn’t until page 183 that Deck asks, “What was the principle that guided the [mis-]speller? There wasn’t one. Many were guessing, as if they’d never been taught to pay attention to the letters when learning to read.” “As if” they’d never been taught? It is first of all obvious to a blind fool that most people who make these mistakes are guessing and know nothing of how language is guided by rules, so Deck’s remark is that of a clueless person. Second, it is clearly blaming teachers rather than the families and children who deride education and don’t bother listening to even the poor instruction they do get. Deck tries so hard not to offend “the public” with this mock-surprise at uneducated people’s lack of education, that, unfortunately, at the end he decides to throw in his lot with Direct Instruction, which is forced scripts for the inadequate teachers we already have. While he’s a fine writer and undoubtedly a skilled editor, I found Deck to be clueless about American education. So although their whimsical trip made for amusing reading, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

two stars

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