We need to pay more attention to grammar and to teaching grammar — our means of making intelligible and communicating our thoughts — especially in this day and age when it is attacked and corrupted, and when we could be inadvertently “conditioned” by the bad grammar all around us. We could easily fall prey to some anti-grammar influences via cultural or “sense of life” factors, if we are not careful and aware. Heck, look around us: movies; modern music lyrics; politicians; newspapers. I’ve seen some pretty bad examples of writing from high school principals and teachers.
Some college professors and PhDs won’t help; that is, we cannot go to them for correction — they are the ones corrupting language, as those PhDs and professors in the NCTE do. It seems like the anti-literacy/anti-grammar crowd have control of the NCTE, and by implication primary/secondary schools, colleges, and teacher’s colleges.
I feel sorry for the teachers in school who need to keep their jobs, but are pressured into following modern anti-thinking, anti-reasoning methods of teaching language. Or for the teachers who try to fight for the sanctity of good grammar, but are censured or ostracized or attacked and vilified for their stance. Or the teachers who support good grammar but who leave the profession to get away from the anti-literacy crowd.
The corrupting influence goes into our schools and colleges, and students suffer for it. (We did, too, I’d think.) Instead of using instructional time wisely, instead of properly training students in spelling and grammar, students are subject to things like this, which the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) praises in one of their idealistic educational “vignettes”:
Each group prepares a presentation for the whole class, and these include a family dinner with dramatized flashbacks, a reconstructed television newscast, and a reenactment of a trip to a 1950s drive-in, complete with a cardboard Chevy and movie screen. (p. 42, Standards for the English Language Arts, by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), (c) 1996.)
Instead of reading and writing, students are cutting out cardboard cars and playing make-believe. And this was a high school “vignette”!!! A good education would be like that I heard about in an anecdote: someone I know had a friend who went to school in Europe. The person in Europe, in high school, had to write a five-paragraph paper every day in class. The teacher would have the papers graded and returned the next day. The person learned how to churn out good writing like it was nothing, like it was automatic.
The contempt for the written language– for true literacy — can be seen in one of the NCTE’s descriptions of literacy:
Being literate in contemporary society means being active, critical, and creative users not only of print and spoken language but also of the visual language of film and television, commercial and political advertising, photography, and more. Teaching students how to interpret and create visual texts such as illustrations, charts, graphs, electronic displays, photographs, film, and video is another essential component of the English language arts curriculum. Visual communication is part of the fabric of contemporary life. Although many parents and teachers worry that television, film, and video have displaced reading and encouraged students to be passive, unreflective, and uninvolved, we cannot erase visual texts from modern life even if we want to. (p. 5, the Standards.)
There you have it. The NCTE implicitly admits that “ television, film, and video” make students “passive, unreflective, and uninvolved,” but, the NCTE also implies, they can’t help it and won’t, so they’ll just go along with the destruction. (Maybe — hopefully — we should read this statement in a more positive light, but I don’t see the NTCE giving any argument to the contrary, not even wording of the sentence to express disagreement. I don’t see any implication that the NCTE is going to focus on the written word more (to make students more intellectually active) or that they are going to make students active, reflective, and involved through watching TV.) So students spend lots of valuable time making up and acting out television newscasts and trips to drive-in theatres. Who needs the difficult Shakespeare and Homer when you can watch TV and call it education? (This is just a rhetorical question. The idea of de-emphasizing Shakespeare and Homer for the sake of utilizing NCTE-ish “texts” of TV programs and rap lyrics is heinous.)
The NCTE also provide us with this corrupt definition (from their glossary, hence the NCTE’s official position):
literacy The standards outlined in this document reflect a contemporary view of literacy that is both broader and more demanding than traditional definitions. Until quite recently, literacy was generally defined, in a very limited way, as the ability to read or write one’s own name. A much more ambitious definition of literacy today includes the capacity to accomplish a wide range of reading, writing, speaking, and other language tasks associated with everyday life. (p. 49, the Standards.)
Notice the contempt for true literacy in the NCTE’s stated, professional claim that literacy before our supposedly enlightened, brilliant era was “defined…as the ability to read or write one’s own name.” If that claim was not such an obvious lie and evasion, one might call it a straw man (argument). Dr. Thomas Bertoneau, in his article “Orality, Literacy, and the Tradition” (MA 45:2, Spring 2003), makes the point that this view of literacy “leaves thinking out of the discussion, as if writing had nothing to do with the ordering of thought.”
And he’s absolutely right in his assessment. Notice also the bastardized definition of grammar given by the NCTE:
grammar The means by which the different components of language can be put together in groups of sounds and written or visual symbols so that ideas, feelings, and images can be communicated; what one knows about the structure and use of one’s own language that leads to its creative and communicative use. (p. 49, the Standards.)
They are claiming that how you string a bunch of pictures together to express “feelings” or “images” constitutes grammar! Wow. How far they have fallen from reason and rational culture.
Writes Dr. Bertoneau:
In “Reclaiming the Active Mind,” an article by Ann E. Berthoff…[she writes]:‘ “If we steadily confront the evidence that our students are impaired in close observation, in the patient examination of what is in front of them, whether it is a poem or a frog’s leg, then the rational response will be despair.”
I’d add: they are impaired in distance observation, too — in, that is, abstract observation. They are cognitively impaired, they are impaired in using concepts for fine distinctions and for broad abstractions.
The malfeasance of modern education is criminal morally, if not legally. We need to be on guard to protect the functioning and integrity of our — and our childrens’ and students’ — minds. Maybe redouble our efforts to train ours and ourselves in good grammar.
I much prefer the position of the philosopher Ayn Rand:
Americans are trained (through the look-say approach to reading and all allied, Dewey-based ideas of education) to be emotional approximators. The nonobjective, ungrammatical way in which people express themselves today is truly frightening. What has been systematically undercut is their capacity for objective communication. Americans tend to express themselves guided by feelings, not by thoughts. According to modern theory, there are no such things as thoughts; and even if there were, they could not guide us.
One of the most important applications of the Objectivist attitude toward reason is grammar. The ability to think precisely, and thus to write precisely, cannot be achieved without observing grammatical rules.
Grammar has the same purpose as concepts. The rules of grammar are rules for using concepts precisely. Since sentences consist of concepts, the whole secret of grammar is clarity and the avoidance of equivocation. The grammar of all language tells us how to organize our concepts so as to make them communicate a specific, unequivocal meaning. If you compare the number of concepts we have with the vastly greater number of phenomena we deal with and have to describe by means of those concepts, you will grasp the importance of grammatical sentence structure. (p. 99 of The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand, edited by Robert Mayhew, Plume Books, (c) Estate of Ayn Rand, 2001)
Teach grammar to preserve the integrity, sanctity, and dignity of the individual mind. Get some good books on grammar and writing, such as “Rex Barks” by Phyllis Davenport (available at The Paper Tiger, at Amazon.com, at Owlcroft.com, at Abebooks.com) and “Writing and Thinking” by Foerester and Steadman (available at The Paper Tiger, at Amazon.com, at Abebooks.com). Study them yourself or with friends, and teach them to your children and students.
Update (about 7 PM): Changed “declamation” to “claim” in the ninth paragraph.
Update (9:40 PM): Added “our means of making intelligible an d communicating our thoughts” to the first paragraph. Added “Heck, look around us: movies; modern music lyrics; politicians; newspapers. I’ve seen some pretty bad examples of writing from high school principals and teachers. ” to the first paragraph. Added “that is, we cannot go to them for correction” to the second paragraph. Put “out” next to “churn” in the fifth paragraph. Added “This is just a” to the seventh paragraph. Added after the Bertoff quote: “I’d add: they are impaired in distance observation, too — in, that is, abstract observation. They are cognitively impaired, they are impaired in using concepts for fine distinctions and for broad abstractions.” Made “book” plural, as it should have been, and changed an “or” to “and” in the last paragraph. Made the last sentence “Study them yourself or with friends, and teach them to your children and students.”
Update (midnight): Added links to Answer.com (on grammar), the NCTE, the Standards, Dewey, Rand (on grammar), and Objectivism.