Most of us are in awe of students who manage to get accepted to Princeton - it seems like they would surely be the creme de la creme with perfect SAT scores and grade point averages to match. At the very least, such students would have mastered the rudimentary rules of grammar that are essential for clear writing. So it was with disappointment that I read the following sentence written by Princeton student Tal Fortgang and printed in the NYT of May 3rd: While I haven’t done everything for myself up to this point in my life, someone sacrificed themselves so that I can lead a better life.” This was from an essay titled “Check Your Privilege,” first published in The Tory, a campus magazine.
An editor must have reviewed it after Fortgang submitted it and possibly it was also read by one of Fortgang’s teachers or a faculty advisor to the magazine, yet no one redlined it or called the need for subject/verb agreement to the writer’s attention. The publisher of The Tory adds some comments of his own in a letter to the editor in today’s NYT (5/12) but not a word of apology for the editorial oversight. Similarly, the NYT never offered the parenthetical SIC that usually accompanies a verbatim quotation with an error in it. In the original Times article, the project manager for Princeton’s Black Student Union issued the following rejoinder to Fortgang’s essay: I don’t think I’ve met an African-American who believes that they are judged solely by their character.” Same unacceptable error. Has it gone viral on campus?
The subject of the essay is explained in Fortgang’s words: The phrase (check your privilege), handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laserlike at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion in a personal Weltanschauung.” This is a young man who’s got some guts, along with his age-appropriate sophomoric bombast, and deserves a first-class education including meticulous attention to the mechanics of writing - old fashioned grammar. Princeton - your students deserve more diligent instruction; NYT - your readers deserve better proofreaders. You’ve both got the privilege - now own it properly and check the grammar!!
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