Saturday, 24 May 2014

A plea to save grammar!

At the risk of offending those who resist the use of split infinitives, I'm going to commit the sin to ask an important question. Could it be our education system is failing to adequately equip students with basic grammar skills?  Has essential substance vacated the curricula necessary to ensure student literacy? Many educators, scholars and policy makers aren't mincing words – they say that’s entirely the problem. We teach students skills in physical education class so they can play sports; we teach them skills in music class so they can play instruments. But somehow, since the revolution of '66, skills have been seen as an enemy to writing. That's according to Paul Budra, an English professor at Simon Fraser University in B.C. who's making the case for teaching grammar. Today more than ever, students are entering college unprepared and severely lacking in basic literacy skills. Whether it's due to complacency on the part of the student, the educational system, or the move toward fractured views of language driven by technology, the future of effective communication is in peril.

I wonder if we've become a society obsessed with accommodation so much so that to exclude those with lesser skills from entering college appears to be insensitive? Some academics suggest the shift toward market-based logic in education combined with lowered standards, grade inflation, and remedial test formats contribute to inadequacies in literacy skill. Realizing that there exists increased pressure on institutions and instructors to manage time and resources, it will be a challenge to accomplish much in the way of reversing the literacy decline but endeavor they must. I know I am not alone in my belief that students need to be told why their writing is incorrect, and be shown how it can be corrected and improved. Two American professors present some provocative ideas about how we might improve students' writing skills. In their journal article, Michael Carter and Heather Harper suggest remedial testing, grade inflation, a decline in academic standards, class size, and technology are among some of the factors influencing the decline. What's the solution? We need to offer intensive undergraduate writing courses, adjust course requirements to mandate more reading and writing prerequisites, and revise grading rubrics to rank performance of student against student. I think it's a case worth pleading.

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