The parts of speech are largely mysterious to them; the rules of punctuation and agreement are likewise unfamiliar. Semi-colons, colons, and dashes do not come into play in their writing because they do not know what they are for. Sentence fragments abound because many do not know that a sentence requires a subject and a verb, nor can they tell reliably when something is a subject and when something is a verb. Forget about objects and indirect objects, simple and compound sentences, subordinate clauses and participial phrases: such terminology is Greek to the vast majority of them.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids today are as smart, creative, and sharp as ever. Their grammar deficit is not their fault. They can’t be blamed for what they were never taught. It’s increasingly unfashionable to emphasize grammar and the rules of syntax in school, the reasons ranging from the hang-loose notion that the rules of usage are confining and binding and irrelevant anyway since language is a living, breathing thing, to the feel-good notion that grammar is boring and mind-numbing and kids will be turned off to reading and writing forever if they have to learn it.
Students don’t like not being able to write correctly, O’Connor says. They’re eager to learn.
I’m still puzzling over one of the dubious sentences she gave students: “Driving along the road, the scenery was beautiful.” I know there’s some rule about gerunds involved, but it just seems like a miscast sentence to me.