Thursday, July 12, 2007

Grammar Instruction Outlawed at Local University

In a statement to local media, Director Fancypants of the School of Writing and Rhetoric confirmed reports that grammar instruction is to be terminated in undergraduate writing courses.

"Learning the rules of grammar does not make you a better writer," he said at this morning’s press conference. Pulling out a hefty tome, he pointed to a highlighted section citing empirical evidence to confirm his position. "Study after study shows that grammar instruction does not improve punctuation or effective communication."

Instead of learning to use commas and semi-colons, incoming students will receive instruction on document design and font selection. "Native speakers of the language can create complex sentences by the age of five," Fancypants explained. "We need to prepare them to write in the world of multimedia communications."

Some veteran writing instructors aren’t so sure. "Despite his speech delay, my three-year-old son is able to use prepositional phrases correctly," Professor Bubandpie noted, "but his grasp of punctuation is not at all well-developed."

Her former students agree. "Before taking Professor Bubandpie’s writing class," one of them claimed, "my writing was full of sentence fragments and comma splices. Now I can write sentences like this one: Although, the dog whom ate my homework was very fierce; he merely gobbled it up and ran away.

"It’s true that many students struggle with grammatical concepts," Bubandpie acknowledged, "and in the short term their writing often gets worse before it gets better. Nevertheless, I’ve always believed that in the university we do not abandon certain subjects simply because they are difficult."

In her writing classes this fall, Bubandpie hopes to continue teaching grammar in addition to the Advanced Cutting-and-Pasting that is mandated by the curriculum. She realizes that by doing so, she risks negative evaluations from students who resent the subject matter, calling it "boring," "old-fashioned" and "irrelevant."

"Student-led workshops and writing exercises are useful," Bubandpie concedes, "but without a basic grasp of punctuation and grammar, students cannot improve their writing simply by doing more of it."

In the post-grammar era, them’s fighting words.

55 comments:

Jenn said...

That sound?

Yes, that was my neck cracking loudly from the jerk that I did when I read that grammar is being outlawed.

Are you kidding me?

Please be kidding me.

or:

Please, be kidding me.

Whichever you prefer, but please select one of them.

bubandpie said...

Not kidding. Aside from the Oniony format, it's all true.

Bon said...

whoops, thar went the baby with the bathwater!

and i'm one of those university writing instructors who normally loves all things post-whatever, and is quite happy teaching from a post-grammar pedagogical position...and just developed a research proposal to teach writing in a multimedia context. but still. i call silliness on their asses.

part of the mistake here, as you say, is in thinking that practice itself serves to teach - which it may, but the things that are being learned in the practice process are not always the things that lead to coherent reasoned argument, clearly stated - not without some guidance in that process. and since 'good' writing generally incorporates the correct use of grammar, by most standards, then that grammar learning must in some way be incorporated into the practice process. dislocated grammar exercises totally out of context? not so useful...i totally agree. focused examination of students' work in order to evaluate their grammar usage, and comparison with other written texts? kinda helpful, people.

i think the decision is also misguided in its apparent assumption that just because the context within which we teach writing may be more multimedia-focused than in the past, that our approach to that teaching must somehow reinvent itself as entirely separate from "old-school" methods. sometimes, incorporating the new need not equate with throwing out the old wholesale.

JMA said...

I have often thought that I should go back and take a grammar refresher course. I didn't pay that much attention in my early years, because I didn't know I wanted to be a writer. Now, I am a writer. I'm not just referring to the blogosphere, where one can afford to be a little more casual. Corporations actually pay me to craft effective marketing pieces for them. I always have to suppress a giggle when they want me to edit someone else's writing for grammar and tone? Tone, sure. Grammar? Allright-y then.

Outlaw grammar? I hope they wait until after I have taken that refresher course.

Terri B. said...

LOL. they txt mssge most of the time anywy. what's nxt? txt mssge term papers?

OK, enough with my little joke (I hope it's a joke). I know we live in a multi-media world, but words are still needed and some RULES for writing really help us all to understand each other. I'd hate to think we're headed toward a collage of pictures and YouTube clips in place of writing.

nomotherearth said...

Isn't that kind of like saying that to be a better artist, you don't need to study perspective and proportion? Artists often have the natural ability to incorporate these things without thought, but a thorough study will no doubt make them stronger. I've often thought our society is becoming progressively more superficial, and this is confirmation.

Angela said...

At least I am not the only one who has problems with grammer. Instead of getting rid of it they should be comming up with better ways to teach it. What is next? Spelling?

Alpha DogMa said...

Angela - did you misspell grammar for comedic effect?

B&P - does your head explode when you read my posts? I try. I really try to get my grammar right. Please don't shun me.

Magpie said...

That is shocking.

painted maypole said...

OK, so that use of whom appeared to be the subject. I'm 33 and I'm still trying to figure out grammar, so I agree that it is hard but worthwhile. I consider myself better than average in terms of grammar and punctuation, but far from perfect.

Mouse said...

I am teaching a foreign language this summer and frequently find that I have to explain English grammar before the students can even begin to understand the concept in the target language. There have been moments of illumination (oh, that's when to use "whom") and sincere expressions of gratitude. And these particular students have mostly been well educated.

Good thing my department would never tell me to stop doing with the grammar.

Major Bedhead said...

Are you kidding me??

My gob, she is smacked.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

Oh, boy, I won't tell you how grammar isn't taught in Australia then.

A hint?

Last I heard, we've learned enough functional grammar by the time we reach PRESCHOOL. Spoken, obviously, but the written stuff doesn't progress past the basic nouns and verbs (in my primary school years anyway).

I've only picked up what I know from reading, and certain books like Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Carrie said...

I'm visualizing escalating job security in my world of technical writing....

metro mama said...

Unbelievable.

Mimi said...

Ha! You're funny. Outlawing grammar is not funny. Even descriptive linguists will agree that a solid grasp of standard english is a powerful tool that is well-acquired even by native speakers who have a significant grasp of many other kinds of englishes.

Yo.

To be able to articulate complex thoughts in carefully constructed, grammatically-correct, and well-punctuated sentences and paragraphs continues to be a skill that marks the bosses apart from the cube-dwellers. If you want to be crass, grammar is monnnnnnnney, baby.

And I'm mad mad mad because, dammit, I'm the one that teaches document design and font choice. But over and over and over I tell my design students that if you don't got content, you don't got nothing, no matter how nicely you kern it, no matter how slick your font.

There is a time and a place for celebrating functional competence, and the joy of the many Englishes that make up our 'linguistic commons'. But seriously? People come to university to improve their standing in the world. And written language is a big big part of that.

Fumingly yours,
Mimi

Mommy off the Record said...

What the...? I can't believe they would want to EVER stop teaching grammar. If anything, we need to teach more of it. Jeez.

Christina said...

Seriously? That's insane.

kgirl said...

well, as a writer, i'm horrified, and as a copy editor, all i can say is, guess i'll have gainful employment for years to come.

(and i am always guilty of serial-comma overuse.)

Jenifer said...

Wow...

all I can say is....

Press 1 for English...

Heather said...

LOL!

Unbelievable.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, for heaven's sake.

This is why I homeschool my kids during the summers; I can't rely on others to teach them the difference between a predicate nominative and a predicate adjective.

My kids love diagramming sentences; it makes my heart beat with motherly pride.

slouching mom said...

Sh*t. You're not kidding?

I am dismayed. And appalled.

You're really not kidding?

Julie Pippert said...

Oh PUHLEEZE!!!

Okay must start finding new career...

Mary-LUE said...

I'll go for canceling grammar classes for undergrads only if they are held accountable for using grammar rules correctly when they write.

mayberry said...

Please do keep fighting the good fight! PLEASE.

Virtualsprite said...

Wow. You know, even though I'm a journalist (and, according to most people, exempt from knowing grammar) I am damn glad that I took it in college. We need to know proper prescriptive grammar, even if it's ignored.

Crazy, man. Just crazy.

Momish said...

No way!! What is going on in our schools anymore? It is very upsetting. Next they will do away with math because, you know, like everyone already has a calculator on their cell phone after all.

Becky said...

I need to confess that I had to read the "dog ate my homework" sentence a bunch of times just to confirm my first instinct that it, indeed, is not correct. (And as I write this I'm doubting myself again. An english scholar I am not.)

Perhaps you could be one of those rebel teachers that kids all like, and find ways to sneak the grammar lessons back in? If you tell the students that you're not supposed to teach it, they might actually like it!

Omaha Mama said...

Brilliant.

My husband, the English major and former 1/2 time English teacher (now turned darkside administrator) taught English Lit. American Lit. Comp. Lit.

No.Grammar. He HATES grammar. I am far better at grammar than he. We have discussed many things across a dinner table that most normal couples do not discuss. Using a comma at the end of a list for example. Or ending a sentence with a preposition.

I break many rules whilst commenting and blogging, but do so knowingly.

I was one of the dorks in 9th and 10th grade English who enjoyed those sentence diagrams. Mostly because I was good at it.

Brilliant post.

Also - what is it with Microsoft Word's love of the semi-colon (is it hyphenated?)...will all humans become semi-colon loving followers because of Microsoft Word? Apparently yes, because there will be no one to set them straight. That green squiggly line LOVES semi-colons.

flutter said...

This is a big, fat, load of hooey. This puts me in a mind a few years back, when there was a movement to teach ebonics as a language in school.

What?

Carrien said...

Has anyone seen that movie where the whole country just keeps getting stupider until the average guy in the time capsule is suddenly the smartest man alive? I don't remember what it was called, and it wasn't a very good movie, but I'm afraid now that it may be a true commentary on the future.

Lady M said...

IN YR CLAZ, UZING GUD GRAMMER.

You must love those lolcats.

DaniGirl said...

Whaaaaaa?

*shakes head in dismay*

In first year university, I tried to sign up for a grammar course because I actually found grammar sort of intriguing, and though I have a fairly strong natural command of it, still had trouble defining things as simple as adjectives from adverbs. They looked at my high school English marks (Grade 13 was 93%) and told me I couldn't take it as it was only for more "remedial" students and I had to take poetry and drama instead. Ick, poetry and drama.

As you can see, I've never gotten over it, and learned all I know about English grammar from taking endless years of French lessons. No joke!

bubandpie said...

Becky - Yup. There are three errors in that sentence, all of that counter-intuitive variety that crops up only after students start overthinking their initial instincts as a result of taking my course. Yay me!

Eva said...

This almost put me over the edge. It's bad enough that students think they don't need to know how to write complete sentences, but now the whole university? At our university we have writing across the curriculum, and so there are writing assignments in my general education social science classes. Students ALWAYS complain that they lost points on writing and say "I already took English 202 and this is not a writing class." Well, if you already took it, you should know how to write... Plus I love the debates I get in with students who think that I corrected their "style" of writing when I'm correcting their grammar (or spelling).

wordgirl said...

Great! Just great! Outlawing grammar will probably mean that we'll have to ignore the kind of mistakes/oversights that set my teeth on edge. I'm a big fan of teaching kids to write like they speak (in order to get words on papers) but getting the punctuation and grammar in there provides the polish.

Katrina said...

Wrong. That is so very wrong.

Luisa Perkins said...

I don't know whether you've already received this honor, but I gave you an award today on my blog.

Catherine said...

I love it! I really enjoy blog writing as news reports...and this is a great topic too. :)

mcewen said...

I have very strong views on grammar. I have even stronger views on speech delays.
Best wishes

Beck said...

Terrific. Just wonderful.

Jenifer said...

Oh my. Please, keep teaching grammar, we need you.

ewe are here said...

Did you know that Strunk and White used to be a staple reference for me way back when?

What an insane policy suggestion. Are they planning to allow students to write the way they IM or 'write' text messages to their friends?

And I can't even imagine what their potential employers of the future will think of this proposal.

Kyla said...

Grammar is outlawed?

Wow...now that is is contraband, I totally want to diagram some sentences! Maybe you can use it to your advantage, create some sort of underground Grammar Rebel society? Sounds exciting!

Swistle said...

I LOVVVVVVVVVE this.

Swistle said...

Wait! I mean I love the funny way you wrote about it! Not that I love the way they're outlawing grammer!

Swistle said...

And I mean GRAMMAR. Holy crap, I am making such a bad first impression here, my first visit to your blog! What's next? Tripping and falling? Snorting milk out my nose?

cinnamon gurl said...

My first response is, this is terrible! But then i think that means businesses and governments will always need specialized writers... leave grammar to the professionals.

Then finally, I remember that only one of my courses in my English degree covered grammar specifically. I've learned the most about grammar since I graduated, and mostly that was refuting my grade two grammar lessons.

All that said, I think it's a stupid decision. In my workplace, people think editing for style and grammar "makes things pretty." I think it's more about making things understandable myself.

Di said...

Ugh...then my children will be writing sentences like:

wassup
cya l8r
luv u

which is how they communicate on IM and text messaging.

A wonderful book that might interest those who are interested in this topic is "Ella Minnow Pea"

Di said...

Oh...another one...a delightful book for us throwbacks is:

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History And Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences

PunditMom said...

Wee donte knead speling, eether. ;)

Emily said...

One year, I tried something with a group of 10th graders. I taught them all the rules for comma use. Then, I told them that I would make a mark next to every sentence with a comma error. I would take off points for each error, but the student would also be responsible for the following (by hand, not typed):

1) write out the sentence as it is
2) If a comma is missing, write out which rule you disregarded in not using a comma. If it is an excess comma, write out what rule you THOUGHT you were following when you inserted comma. (hint: "Pause" is not an acceptable answer.)
3)Write out the sentence correctly.

You would be amazed at how quickly the punctuation improved.

I'm not usually voted most popular teacher.

Susanne said...

Wow. I will forever be amazed at the wonders of modern education.

Maybe I will have to move to the US so I can homeschool my son.

And I'm really glad that somebody else asked if there were mistakes in that "dog ate my homework"-sentence. Because my grasp of English grammar is feeble. But better than my punctuation.

And I learned all I know about grammar from a couple of years of learning Latin by the way. Didn't learn Latin though.

Occidental Girl said...

I'm appalled! I'm shocked! I agree with you, Professor Bubandpie.

Teaching grammar and basic syntax can only improve writing, if not in the short term than in the long. I think it should be taught long before college (not to put you out of a job, I'm just sayin').

Argh. My little, English-loving heart just shrank a little with horror.