Friday, November 9, 2012

Grammar Gap

This blog has discussed schools’ poor grammar coverage before, but a recent incident dramatizes the problem. A student who is a native speaker of English told me she doesn’t know grammar. I thought perhaps she had forgotten some arcane rule, but she said she was never taught grammar as she went through the public school system. She explained, “I think I know what a noun is, but I don’t know what a pronoun is. Is it like a preposition?” I was taken aback. I tell my students that a pronoun should agree with a nearby antecedent, and I’ve posted a pronoun exercise on line. But I did not think a graduate student would have no idea what a pronoun is.


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Judith, Your student is not alone. American high school and grade school teachers have been taught in their education classes that learning formal grammar does not improve students' writing. This is false, but the result is that few students nowadays, outside Catholic or other private schools, learn English grammar. Read David Mulroy's excellent, truly wonderful, book "The War Against Grammar."

Posted by: Mary Campbell Gallagher, J.D., Ph.D. | Nov 9, 2012 7:26:16 AM

A student was just in my office for a required conference on a draft of his intra-office legal memo. My students were required to use Core Grammar for Lawyers on-line this semester. He told me he spent many hours on it and it taught him more grammar than he ever was taught previously. "I never knew where to put a comma before," he said. Knowing where to put a comma hardly counts as knowing a finepoint of writing in English and certainly used to be expected of high school graduates, never mind college graduates.

Posted by: Sue Liemer | Nov 9, 2012 7:26:25 AM

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