Monday, September 10, 2012

Grammar: The Geography of Writing

The science of tectonic plates did not begin until the early 20th century. Even before this study began young students could see how easily Africa and South America fit together like puzzle pieces. Those who raised a hand to share this observation were quickly dismissed by the teacher.

Now, that same idea is applauded in the classroom. Thus, the student prior-to-discovery is left discouraged while the student post-discovery is encouraged.  This analogy is played throughout our education, and I would not be surprised if every student has their own comparable experience.

Especially with grammar.

Take for instance, ending a sentence with a preposition.  When I left high school, this practice was heresy.  Now it has been adopted as sometimes necessary although still controversial.  My mother, for example, always ends the conversation with, “What are we teaching our kids today?” But with today’s standards changing quite faster than the tectonic plates how can educators keep the trust of their students? How can animosity be avoided in students as one teacher will say one thing, the next another, leaving the student thinking “WTF”? How can educators correct students today when tomorrow there will be no “mistake”?

Spoiler! I do not have an answer. However, it is important to keep this paradox in mind.  The real danger here is that students may begin to think teachers are just making it up as they go, and students will just give up altogether.

Think of the student who comes home from grammar class only to open his mother’s copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I would personally pitch a fit all afternoon! And Poor Mom who would have to hear it! Educators have to walk the tightrope of giving a student a proper education of today while being sensitive to the education of tomorrow.

This topic is sticky! Really sticky!

On one hand are the teachers who strongly condemn the singular “their” as I have used it in this blog post. On the other hand are those who condemn the practice of “he” or “his” as the alternative (as I have also used in this blog post). Both have valid arguments. However, which is right today? Which standard will be correct tomorrow?

In the words of Mom, “What are we teaching kids today?” But, more importantly, how are students to feel about the discrepancies in grammar pedagogy, and how are they to be convinced teachers are not just making it up as they go? 

1 comment:

  1. Good question. I guess my position is that if we teach the controversy, we can at least avoid sending students out into the world convinced that every question of usage has only one correct answer. That seems like better preparation for the real world than an over-generalized "rule."