Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grammar Education

Recently in a lecture we had in class last month I was introduced to a topic that I wasn’t familiar with, and a set of rules I didn’t know existed. This rule was something that perplexed me so much that I brought it up on several different occasions with people from outside our Foundations of Composition class. What I found was that there was a staggering amount of people that, along with me, didn’t know that this grammatical rule existed. Apparently the rules of use behind superlative and comparative adjectives aren’t common knowledge, and thinking back on it this was definitely one rule I was guilty of breaking on several occasions. It’s instances like this that make me wish grammar wasn’t just briefly touched on in high school so that maybe in College and University the comma splice wouldn’t be such a scary thing.
Many people today think that grammar isn’t exactly on the top of the educational priorities list, and I found this blatantly evident in my transition from high school English class to College English class. I entered my first College English class with a very basic knowledge of the comma, and almost no idea what a semicolon was actually used for. Grammar was something that scared me and still does. I have this terrible feeling that maybe if the curriculum had allotted significant space for teaching the proper use of grammar in Jr. High through High School, it wouldn’t seem that intimidating. Instead it feels like we’re making up for lost time. I read an interesting blog the other night on this subject. It focused mainly on the lack of previous grammatical education students attending the University of Victoria had, and how it was effecting their present education. The blog opened up with a rather perturbing third person account of an English Professor asking his fourth year English class what the difference between a semicolon and a colon was, and their hesitant reply of, “But aren’t they the same thing?”. Later on the same English professor, among others including the head of the English Department at UVic, credited most of the University students, English majors included, “grammatically clueless.”
At this time one can only wonder what exactly happened to the curriculum to make it this way. Why are students being sent into their post secondary education ill prepared for one of our most basic and impressionable skills? We are given the notion our grammar is a direct reflection to our peers of our personality. University entrance essays have a hefty grammatical weight, and quarterly reports and proposals in the business world are constantly scrutinized. So why skimp on a life skill? According to the same blog, a quick read through the Ministry of Education’s English Language Arts Curriculum Guide for grades 8 to ten in British Columbia shows the mention of the word “grammar” only a few times. Through personal experience I can almost guarantee the Alberta curriculum would show chilling similarities. Oddly enough, the same curriculum in 1941 displayed an astounding 7 pages devoted to grammar. It’s funny how things change. Even comparisons of present day BC provincial exams and those from 30 years ago show a decline in grammatically geared English classes.

I know I can’t be the only one feeling the weight of a grammatically incorrect high school education on my shoulders. This is a skill that is highly valued by future employers and post secondary institutions alike, so it demands a little respect. If not, at least a spot in the High School curriculum.

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