Different people have different styles of blogging. Some people like to link to news items. Some people like to lilnk to something and then comment on it directly. And some self-indulgent narcissists like to link to something, talk about it briefly, and then muse on a tangentially related point. Since I am of the latter sort, I should link to something.
How about this wonderful article about teachers who are attempting to teach grammar?
I can attest to the sad state of grammar easily enough: my students are at UCLA, one of the flagship universities of the UC system. The number of them who simply do not understand how a sentence works is alarming. These are not dim people… They are quite sharp, and I consider it a privilege to work with them. But a nontrivial number of them are deeply ignorant about how their own language actually works. (I am not talking about ESL/ELL students, by the way.)
Anyway, it pleases me to see, through this article, at least some anecdotal evidence that grammar might be making a comeback — even if the problems with the letter the students are criticizing at the beginning are actually more stylistic than grammatical. But what I wanted to focus on more specifically was these two paragraphs from the article (which in any sane world would be a single paragraph, but journalists seem to think that the best paragraph is a sentence).
After the sixties, grade-school students, by and large, didn’t learn grammar the way their parents had, and now, decades later, they don’t reinforce the rules very well with their own children. Without this reinforcement at home, much of the burden to teach students correct English lies with teachers.
The problem with that idea, of course, is that many teachers today didn’t learn much grammar when they were in school, either. “It’s now been gone for a generation,” Concilio says. “A lot of people, I think, really don’t understand the value of it.”
Things get lost. Sometimes they get lost and come back,and sometimes they are lost forever. It took a thousand years to “fix” Latin, if you want to call it fixing. Renaissance humanists were right: the Latin of Cicero and Priscian was cleaner, more elegant. It was better than Medieval Latin, even of the academic sort.
Recently, commenters on this site were talking about proofs in Geometry. I see a connection here. First, the curriculum lost logic (dialectic). That happened a long time ago. Then we lost grammar. Then we started to lose geometry.
What is happening here — and I don’t want to be alarmist by any means, because a trend can happen without being either universal or unopposed — is e undermining (or perhaps abandonment might be a better term) of the model of a trained mind that was formerly the productof the seven liberal arts. Those arts — both the Trivium and the Quadrivium, but especially the former — were as much about methodology of thought as they were about content.
Everyone goes nuts, holding professional development days and sinking money into seminars, technology, and new curricula, in a rather silly quest to teach “critical thinking”. What you see in the quest for critical thinking is a recognition that something has been lost.
It has been lost. To a great degree. It used to be formalized and structured… And now we cast about for it haphazardly. I am not saying that we should use ancient texts and teach with handwritten codexes. The method can be modernized, and taught using modern technique. But it must be taught or it… won’t be. (There’s some logic for you.)
Thanks to people like the teachers in the linked article, we’re hanging on to it. But things can be lost. And if we are not careful, they will be.