My students know all too well that I want them to focus on the mechanics of writing, even though I am not a language instructor teaching them how to write. I typically refer them to George Orwell's fantastic essay on how related writing and thinking are.
While I am not one of those grammarian colleagues I had in California, who said her favorite bedtime readings were books about the art and craft of writing, I am always fascinated by discussions on this topic. And sometimes I actually do understand them! A few years ago, when Lynne Truss' book came out, I quickly purchased for myself a copy and was so close to making it a required reading for one of my courses until a colleague pointed out that students might not easily relate to the British examples and language that Truss discusses. I was, like, er, WTF :)
Which is why it has been a good Saturday morning--I read two commentaries that deal with different aspects of the English language and grammar.
In this essay in Salon, from where I have borrowed the quote in the title of this post, the author notes:
after seven years of teaching college composition, have I started to consider the possibility that talking about classics might be a profound waste of time for the average high school student, the student who is college-bound but not particularly gifted in letters or inspired by the literary arts. I've begun to wonder if this typical high school English class, dividing its curriculum between standardized test preparation and the reading of canonical texts, might occupy a central place in the creation of a generation of college students who, simply put, cannot write.One more reason to wonder if college is for everybody, and if college, then what exactly do we want students to get from that experience. Oh well ... a discussion for another day, I suppose.
For years now, teaching composition at state universities and liberal arts colleges and community colleges as well, I've puzzled over these high-school graduates and their shocking deficits. I've sat at my desk, a stack of their two-to-three-page papers before me, and felt overwhelmed to the point of physical paralysis by all the things they don't know how to do when it comes to written communication in the English language, all the basic skills that surely they will need to master if they are to have a chance at succeeding in any post-secondary course of study.
Anyway, the author finds out from the English teacher at a large school district on what exactly is going on in high schools these days:
"It's very hard to get a lot of teachers to teach those things, especially grammar. We have such a need to engage students. There's such an emphasis on keeping student enthusiasm going and getting them to want to actively participate. When you start talking about grammar, it's like asking them to eat their vegetables, and no one wants to ask them to do that. They prefer class discussion, which is great but to a certain degree, goes off into the wind."So, then even this foreign-born geography faculty ends up teaching grammar? Why do we emphasize writing, and why don't students want to learn it?
When I ask her why she thinks there's such resistance to prioritizing and teaching writing, given its numerous applications, given its overlap with critical thinking skills, analytical skills, basic communication skills, she hesitates for a moment, then answers in three words: "It's not fun."Oh well ...
True, but then, teaching (and for that matter, learning) isn't always fun. Changing my kid's dirty diapers isn't fun. Dragging my fat ass onto a treadmill isn't fun. Helping my grandmother "fix" her computer isn't fun. Sometimes we do things not because they're fun but because they're important.
And even when do get students who are careful about grammar, grammarians make it difficult for us and we have to worry about where to put that damned question mark in the quote--inside the quotation marks or outside? And today I find out there is something called "logical punctuation" that sounds more of an oxymoron than anything else :)
the British way simply makes more sense. Indeed, since at least the 1960s a common designation for that style has been "logical punctuation."British and logical? You got to be kidding! And in a language in which, as Bernard Shaw pointed out, "ghoti" can be pronounced as "fish"? Hey, notice that I placed the question mark after the quotes? Haha!