Thursday, September 02, 2010

Limerick Elsewhere: Grammar Police

In response to a limerick-capped discussion of a new round of student-bashing English 'education', I had to respond (I think I got it right: it's in moderation):

We strive to teach students clarity
and sometimes we end up with hilarity
but if they don't learn
from betting that burn
they'll treat us with similar charity.

In other words, if we put our effort into teaching them to write precisely before teaching them to think effectively, they'll view us, quite correctly, as scolds and neurotics.


Not Important said...

Interesting point.

Now the interesting part. I want to ask this question sincerely, but it keeps coming across as confrontational. Which is very meta, because it points out, in sharp relief, how difficult it is to think and write clearly.

What age would kids need to be before you'd expect a curriculum to include proper writing. And, as a corollary, when do we expect them to think clearly?

I'm truly wondering and hoping you have some insight. My son is demonstrating astounding leaps of mental growth on a weekly or daily basis at age 15, but his writing skills are... um... less than I'd expect for his mental abilities. Time to play catch-up, I suppose.

Not Important said...

And, I used "interesting" twice in two consecutive sentences. I need to be more fully caffeinated.

Ahistoricality said...

It's a fair question. Bunch of questions. Gordian knot of issues....

I think they're continuous processes, really. School kids benefit from basic training, to be sure, but not as much as they benefit from experience. I've been told, and tend to believe, that biggest independent variable in writing skills -- especially mechanics -- is the amount of reading and the amount of writing. Exposure to good material, opportunity to practice. As long as it's age-appropriate, it's more or less a constant process.

Like you, I've got a child who's bright, and a great reader, but not much of a writer. The school is teaching some skills (and just got into cursive and typing this year) so I'm hoping that more writing will actually start being an issue. But let's face it: for most of us, our writing skills lag behind our reading and speaking skills. As for thinking clearly, even for the best of us, it comes and goes....

I teach writing in my classes, and I expect good writing. But I don't judge "good" on the basis of grammar and spelling, unless they're so bad that they literally impede communication; I grade and comment on the basis of the quality of the argument and thesis, the match of the evidence to the argument, the appropriate use of historical context. I want my students worried about whether other things that happened in 1776 affect their conclusions, not about where the commas go.

I don't know if that actually sheds any light on the subject.

Not Important said...

I think it does. Probably best discussed in a series of small social gatherings with little sandwiches or pretzels rather than the comments thread of a blog.