May 22, 2003
Grammatical argument

Professor Instapundit links to this piece about the teaching of grammar. (If that link doesn't work, try this and then scroll down.)

It's not about how to teach grammar, merely about whether to teach it. Dennis Baron apparently believes we shouldn't bother, because other things about writing are, he says, more important. Ralph A. Raimi of the University of Rochester, NY, vehemently dissents. Raimi's concluding paragraphs:

Yet Baron's argument is more pernicious than the mere observation that good grammar does not guarantee good writing. This unarguable beginning progresses, and becomes an attack on learning grammar at all. This he is not entitled to do. It is as if a music student were advised against learning anything about scales, arpeggios and modulations, on the grounds that expression and nuance, really, are at the heart of music. And more recently, in the schools, the doctrine that arithmetic is no longer important (now that we have calculators) since mathematics is a science of patterns, big ideas, higher order thinking skills.

Then, having demonstrated that learning grammar is a no-no, Baron ends with an attack on testing grammatical competence, with an argument implying that those who would test this competence believe "grammar tests [alone] measure writing ability."

In this last quotation it was I, not Baron, who inserted the "[alone]." I plead guilty, and merely exhibit my take on the general tenor of his article. Read it for yourself, and consider how many such you have read in your time. Arithmetic skill [alone] doesn't lead to better mathematics; music theory [alone] doesn't lead to artistry in composition; Teaching Grammar [alone?] Doesn't Lead to Better Writing. You can cover your flanks by omitting the "alone", sure, but the message is clear: Clean up the curriculum; stick to what's important. No more arithmetic; no more arpeggios; no more grammar. Bah!

So there.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:54 PM
Category: Literacy