Grammar is back

A growing number of teachers are “bringing grammar, the forgotten spinster of school subjects, back to the party,” writes Elise Hahl  in Education Next.

In an honors English class at Needham High in Massachusetts, students rip apart a verbose letter by a 15K race coordinators trying to explain why he misdirected racers and forgot to supply water at the finish line.

“‘In trying to formulate what to say in regards to yesterday’s events,’” Max quotes, “‘I realized that what I said over and over to the folks I helped get on returning shuttle buses was exactly what should be said to all.’”

. . . “He just throws in words!” Max says. He goes on to finish the opening paragraph.

“‘While it became repetitive, it was no less from the heart in any one time from the other:’”

“He ended with a colon,” says a boy who didn’t shave that morning.

. . . A stocky kid named David chimes in. “That’s not just bad grammar,” he says, indignant. “That’s, like, bad PR.”

His comment catches the attention of (teacher Andrea) Bassett, who is making rounds to each cluster of students. “David,” she says, “the life lesson here is that bad grammar is bad PR. You guys remember that.”

Needham High English teachers decided to coordinate grammar instruction so their students would no longer graduate “without knowing the parts of speech or parts of a sentence” or the need to capitalize “I.”

Brent Concilio, a young, Dartmouth-educated teacher, says the push to make classes “relevant” meant more time discussing students’ feelings about contemporary novels and less time for “the systematic teaching of grammar.”

Grammar was considered oppressive by some teachers, writes Hahl.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication in 1972 stated that students had a right “to their own patterns and varieties and language.” The resolution, which was adopted in 1974 by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), went so far as to say that correcting language was “immoral” because it was really an attempt by one social group to exert dominance over another.

With colleges complaining about students’ lack of writing skills, the SAT has added grammar questions, Hahl writes. Needham High parents want their kids to learn grammar, even if they didn’t learn much when they were in school. The school’s teachers believe students will benefit from learning how to communicate clearly in what’s considered the “correct” way.

Needham serves students from affluent, educated families. I wonder if grammar is back in schools with disadvantaged students, who have little hope of learning to write clearly unless they’re taught the fundamentals.

Ruling: Ethnic studies classes break Arizona law

Tucson schools must drop Mexican-American Studies or lose 10 percent of state funding, ruled an administrative law judge, who found the ethnic classes violate Arizona law. The 2010 law bans courses that are “designed for a specific ethnic group” or advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” It also bans fanning “racial resentment.”

Ignoring the history of  ”oppression and racism” will promote resentment, a school district witness testified. But Judge Lewis Kowal found the classes went beyond “teaching oppression objectively” to “actively presenting material in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner.”

“Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity, instead of treating pupils as individuals,” Kowal wrote. He cited a lesson that taught students that the historic treatment of Mexican-Americans was “marked by the use of force, fraud and exploitation,” and a parent’s complaint that one of her daughters, who was white, was shunned by Latino classmates after a government course was taught “in an extremely biased manner.”

A group of teachers are challenging the law in federal court, arguing it was motivated by “a racial bias and anti-Hispanic beliefs and sentiments.”