Nation's Educators Alarmed By Poorly Written Teen Suicide Notes

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Vol 32 Issue 03

Microsft Bids $2.1 Billion For Milton Berle Joke File

REDMOND, WA—Continuing its massive content-acquisition drive, Microsoft paid $2.1 billion Monday for Milton Berle's Joke File, the world's most vaunted collection of insults, gags and one-liners. "We aim to build the greatest archive in human history," Microsoft spokesperson Samantha Franks said, "and, as such, we needed to acquire the world's greatest jokes." Culled from the legendary comedian's six decades in show business—spanning Vaudeville, radio and television—the Milton Berle Joke File is believed to be the largest collection of zingers in existence, covering subjects ranging from mothers-in-law to schwartzes. Microsoft is also rumored to be interested in acquiring Rich Hall's extensive "Sniglets" lexicon.

New Toothbrush Slightly Different From Already Existing, Perfectly Good Toothbrushes

BELMONT, CA—At a press conference Monday, Oral-B Laboratories unveiled its much-anticipated new DentuTek 6.0 toothbrush, touted by its designers as slightly different from the hundreds of perfectly good toothbrushes currently on the market. "This toothbrush design is perfect for those who are not satisfied with the 846 existing toothbrush designs currently on the market," Oral-B director of product development Julianne Wuerfel said. "Finally, the American consumer has an 847th choice." According to Wuerfel, the DentuTek 6.0 features a patented ErgoDynamic(TM) handle, tapered to a curve vector almost .002 inches from its nearest competitor, the Colgate 34-XB, as well as a revolutionary new Tri-Level Bristle-Control System(TM). "We're very excited," Oral-B CEO Palmer Esch said. "Our team of toothbrush designers and engineers labored intensely to develop a toothbrush that fit within the infinitesimally small window of as-yet-undesigned toothbrush styles. And they did it."

AARP Calls For 'Comfier Booths' At Denny's

WASHINGTON, DC—Taking a bold stand against discomfort, the American Association of Retired Persons called for "comfier booths" at America's approximately 500 Denny's restaurants Monday. "How long can Denny's management stand idly by while our nation's elderly eat their senior breakfast specials at booths that are merely adequate?" AARP president Marge Littlefield, 77, said. Among its principal demands, the AARP called for increased cushiness, more leg room and an adjustable back-rest feature for those seniors suffering from lower-back discomfort and/or osteoporosis. Additional demands included waitstaff-dispensed shawls, Epsom-salt foot baths at select tables, and specially designated nap areas.

Baseball Hall Of Fame Elected To Hall Of Fame Hall Of Fame

MAPLEWOOD, NJ—In a gala ceremony Monday, the Baseball Hall of Fame was inducted into the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame. Said Hall of Fame Hall of Fame president Darrell Quinlan: "There have been many extraordinary Halls of Fame through the years, but few quite so extraordinary as the Baseball Hall of Fame, with its long, proud tradition of inducting only the most extraordinary baseball players into its ranks." The Baseball Hall of Fame joins such legendary Halls of Fame as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in the Hall of Fame Hall of Fame.

My Short Fiction Will Restore America's Romantic Spirit

Sadly, when I look around America today, I see a lack of romantic spirit. Men and women are no longer filled with wonder for the ethereal forces that drive them together. They're not looking up, starry-eyed, at the shimmering night sky. They're not dreaming of the dawn. They're not talking about love! But once my short fiction starts getting published, that should all change.

The UPS Strike

The weeks-old UPS strike is badly hurting America's small businesses—employers of 50 percent of the nation's workers—prompting many to call for President Clinton to step in and resolve the dispute. What do you think?

Strom Thurmond Calls For Construction Of Transcontinental Railroad

WASHINGTON, DC—Citing the need for cheaper and faster shipping to the Western Territories, the need to unite the Republic after the long and bitter War Between The States, and the recent discovery of gold in the California region, U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) urged Congress Monday to support funding for the construction of a transcontinental railroad.
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Nation's Educators Alarmed By Poorly Written Teen Suicide Notes

WASHINGTON, DC—At the group's annual convention Sunday, members of the National Education Association called for the formation of a nationwide coalition of parents, teachers and political leaders to address a rapidly growing problem: the alarmingly low quality of teenage suicide notes across the U.S.

U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley holds up a suicide note from a 15-year-old girl he says was "crying out for help in proper punctuation and spelling."

In the convention's keynote address, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said America must renew its commitment to grammar, spelling and writing skills, calling the marked improvement of teen suicide prose "the nation's number one educational priority."

"Not three days ago I met with the parents of a young man who chose to take his own life," Riley said. "I was shocked by what I saw: a note that read simply, 'Im gonna blo my head of.' This sort of syntax is understandable coming from a first- or second-grader, but from a 17-year-old it is downright appalling," Riley said. "What do you tell the parents in a situation like that? By all outward appearances, this seemed like a normal child. The poor parents had no idea their son's writing skills were that poor."

Addressing the assemblage of teachers, NEA president Cheryl Brodhagen described an "alarming erosion of grammar skills" among America's teens, in whose suicide notes can be found double negatives, split infinitives, improper word usage and—in the worst cases—unnecessary use of the passive voice.

Calling the decision to take one's life "one of the most important decisions a young student has to face," Brodhagen said that to leave behind poorly written and misspelled suicide notes of the type found recently is "tragic beyond words" for the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces.

"This one, for example," said Brodhagen, holding up a suicide note from a 16-year-old Pawtucket, RI, girl, "is written in such shaky, uneven handwriting and is so badly blurred with some sort of wet stains and splotches that it's virtually unreadable. In any decent classroom it would be considered entirely unacceptable."

Brodhagen then related the story of another tragic suicide note, discovered at the feet of a 15-year-old St. Louis boy who had hanged himself.

"The boy's mother opened the door to his room one morning to wake him up for school," Brodhagen said, "and she screamed in horror at what she saw: Dangling, right there in front of her, was a participle."

A pair of teen suicide notes, corrected by <I>New York Times</I> copy editor Edward Stimson. Stimson called the error-riddled notes "disturbing."

Also cause for concern among educators is the excessively "purple" prose of many teen suicide notes. Said Savannah, GA, ninth grade creative-writing teacher Ed Salmons: "I'm seeing overwrought, melodramatic, bathetic writing that demonstrates no grasp of subtlety or style. It's really hard for me to take pretentious, self-indulgent suicide notes like these seriously as pieces of writing. It's as if the author was just in love with the sound of his or her own voice."

According to leading child psychologists, a suicidal teen's failure to meet even the most basic standards of high-school-level composition may indicate the child has given up hope of ever having his or her written prose understood.

"These teens are desperately trying to express themselves, but all they can manage are sloppy, barely coherent phrases like 'Im usles' and 'I hat myself,'" noted therapist Eli Wasserbaum said. "One Florida boy who recently shot himself in the head wrote, 'I cant talk to anyone about my problems.' 'Cant'? Is he referring to the noun defined as 'the whining, singsong speech of beggars and thieves'? Somehow, I don't think so. We're talking about a serious inability to communicate here."

Wasserbaum said that early detection and intervention is crucial. "My advice is this: If you know a teen who seems to be exhibiting the sort of low self-esteem and withdrawn alienation that often precedes suicidal behaviors, for God's sake, get them into a one-on-one writing tutorial immediately. They've got to improve their communication skills now, before it's too late," he said.

The NEA is currently developing a 12-step plan to improve suicidal teens' reading and writing skills, including extra homework for students deemed "at-risk" by counselors and tougher grading standards for teens who have attempted suicide on one or more occasions.

The proposal also calls for the creation of special 'suicidal-only' after-school study halls to prevent depressed teens from engaging in extracurricular social activities with their peers, activities which may interfere with their studies and lead to greater erosion of basic grammar and spelling down the road.

"There seems to be an almost direct link between the rise in suicidal behavior and the decline in students' overall command of the English language," said Bangor, ME, junior-high vice-principal Bob Drake. "If this lack of attention paid to developing writing skills continues among teens, we may need to start thinking about revoking their suicide privileges altogether."

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