Todd Wedel is Academic Dean and Upper School Principal for The Academy.

Todd Wedel is Academic Dean and Upper School Principal for The Academy.

Let me offer responses which I believe at least begin a dialogue.

First, although the author articulates that the studies “the old-fashioned way [of doing grammar] does not work…—confirmed in 1984, 2007, and 2012 through reviews of over 250 studies—is consistent among students of all ages, from elementary school through college” the evidence and studies listed all pertain only to high school and college students. It may be that such studies do comprise elementary students as well, but the weight given in the article, and perhaps the weight of the studies themselves, appears to be on students in older years of instruction.

Let’s not be surprised, then, by the result. Students in the Rhetoric stage (or who should be) aren’t necessarily given by proclivity to enjoy or endure the arduous and attention-demanding task of learning and parsing out grammar. It is not that they are incapable of it, but that as a first introduction, it will seem stultifying and demeaning.

I’d offer that if students have been trained to think rightly and carefully about language, perhaps they won’t find it as much drudgery as those uninitiated.

So the focus of the article correctly identifies those for whom the problem most pertains.

Second, as so often, the problem is identifying what the problem is. If the problem is, as the article contends and the studies seem to demonstrate, that of formal grammar instruction, the solution offered is the sensible course. But we should ask whether the data are evidence for the problem identified.

Anecdotally, I’ve been teaching writing, including grammar, both integrated and as a formal subject, for over a decade, from the elementary to college students the article’s author references. I’ve been in classrooms where the sensible approach was to seek to have students more able to “hear” and “feel” the right structure than to have them know intellectually (this, though, because I only had them for a semester and knew no other teachers would take the time during their college “careers” to involve themselves with teaching writing). I increasingly felt myself to be doing what in my darker moments I named “damage control”-making up for such deficiencies as they entered the class with and giving them such skills as they might leave it to be competent (if only that) in their other classes.

Thus, my only recourse is to teach grammar as I can and in reinforcement, but never in any depth and with little hope of giving students deep analytical and expressive tools.

Yet my individual experience does not answer the charge. Let me offer that formal grammar instruction, if done rightly, is not set dichotomously against grammar through writing; the two happily and rightly wed.

This wedding of formal instruction and grammar through writing is only sensible and sensibly carried out if we ask the most foundational question, that which the article never raises but presupposes.

The question, and hence the identification of the problem and solution, rest upon precisely the question of ends. Why do we teach writing? Towards what goal and to what end?

The article does not ask this question, but the entire framework presupposes the answer. Writing instruction occurs so students can be conversant in written expression so that (and here’s the subtle subtext) they can be confident and productive members of the social and economic establishment.

If this is the end, the telos, of writing instruction, I heartily concur-away with formal grammar. Most social and economic units have little or no need to know the intricacies of grammar. Of course, the dirty little secret here is that we don’t want them to know those intricacies, lest they be able to really question the messages they encounter and articulate responses concurring or dissenting.

If, though, the end, the telos, can be framed somewhat thus: Writing instruction occurs so students can be conversant as humans with other humans, appreciating and utilizing the order and harmony, the unity in diversity, of written (and hence oral) expression in loving communication and communion with their neighbors as fellow image bearers.

Perhaps such a statement sounds too great, too grandiose. Can it really be that formal grammar instruction can be a means to that end?

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