The National Council of Teachers of English, whose directives shape curriculum decisions nationwide, has quietly reversed its long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as "a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing."And, with thanks to the Old Curmudgeon for passing it along, this article from the The Guardian, "Mind Your Language -- It Matters!", an excerpt from the new book by John Humphrys:
Now, even the sentence diagram, long the symbol of abandoned methodology, is allowed, if not quite endorsed, in the classrooms of Fairfax and Howard [Counties in Virginia] and other high-performing school systems throughout the region. To diagram a sentence is to deconstruct it as if it were a math problem, with the main noun, verb and object written on a horizontal line and their various modifiers attached with diagonals.
"Our time has come," said Amy Benjamin, who presides over a council committee that concerns itself with grammar. In 17 years, her Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar has evolved from "kind of a revolutionary cell" into standard-bearers.
The nascent movement to restore overt grammar instruction began subtly. A 2002 council publication reasserted the importance of "knowing about grammar" and encouraged teachers to "experiment with different approaches," including traditional drills and diagrams. ...
An informal survey of Virginia and Maryland school systems suggests that grammar education is re-emerging slowly. The Loudoun County school system offers an annual summer staff development session called Grammar for English Teachers, tailored to teach the basics to teachers who didn't learn them in college. "It usually fills up pretty quickly," said Carrie Perry, supervisor of English language arts in Loudoun.
The Howard County school system "has returned to the importance of teaching grammar" in the past two or three years, said Zeleana Morris, a language arts coordinator.
The revolution might never reach many classrooms. The newest English teachers are products of a grammarless era, unprepared to distinguish an appositive from an infinitive.
"What you have is a generation of teachers from the early to mid-'70s who don't know grammar, who never learned it," said Benjamin, an author of the national council's publication. "We have armies of teachers, elementary teachers and English teachers, who don't have the language to talk about language. It's kind of their dirty little secret."
Language is more than a tool for expressing ourselves. It acts as a mirror to our world, reflecting back to us the way we live. It reflects our attitudes about the way we see things and how we are seen by others: in public life; in politics and commerce; in advertising and marketing; in broadcasting and journalism. Yet the prevailing wisdom about language seems to be that "anything goes".
Word by word, we are at risk of dragging our language down to the lowest common denominator and we do so at the cost of its most precious qualities: subtlety and precision. If we're happy to let our common public language be used in this way, communication will be reduced to a narrow range of basic meanings.
That, of course, would be rather convenient for the snake-oil salesmen, unscrupulous estate agents and (dare I say it?) even some politicians who might prefer not to be pinned down to anything too precise. But why should the rest of us settle for the lowest common denominator communication?
At this point, it's also important to be clear about what should not worry us. I don't get all agitated when a young lad is discussing the merits of one MP3 player against another in a language that may be alien to me. And he hardly needs to speak formally correct English when he's chatting up girls in a pub. He has his world and I have mine and we each speak our own kinds of English in them. But we also have a shared world where we need a dependable common language if we're all going to get by.
It is not a case that language should never change, because of course it always does, but that grammar matters. One of the daftest things we have ever done in our schools was to stop teaching it to children. Academics who should have known better came up with the absurd notion that rules somehow confined children, restricted their imagination. Understanding the basic workings of grammar – even if you don't observe all the rules to the letter – can liberate. If you don't know how to construct a sentence, how can you express yourself?