OK, fess up. You don’t know what a dangling participle is, and you couldn’t pick the past perfect tense out of a police lineup. Neither can I. But you know nouns from verbs. And you can probably tell the difference between a complete sentence, a fragment, and a run-on. Consider yourself part of a vanishing breed. Writing at Betrayed–Why Public Education is Failing, Robert Archer, a high school English teacher in Spokane, Washington estimates that fewer than 10% of his 10th graders have command of basic grammar.
“Honestly, it’s gotten to the point that trying to make my way through the grammatical land mines that await me anytime I assign a writing assessment becomes so painstakingly tedious that even the solid content of any given essay becomes lost in the ghastly-writing-skills shrapnel. (And don’t even get me started on the spelling skills of this generation of non-phonics-learning texters! OMG!)
“When high school students cannot use their own language correctly, their overall communication skills—both in written and oral form—suffer tremendously,” writes Archer, who blames curriculum developers for his students’ poor skills. Somewhere along the line, he writes “teaching grammar has become something that we teachers can simply ‘imbed’ into the reading and writing curriculum.” Trouble is, it’s not working.
“I’m sorry, but in my experience, the term “imbedded” is nothing more than educationalese for ‘not ever specifically taught.’ Somehow, this grammar-is-imbedded movement is supposed to help students naturally take in what proper grammar is (i.e., grammar by osmosis). It’s very much a hyper-constructivist approach to education; the students are supposed to “discover” proper grammar on their own as they read good pieces. Then, somehow and some way, they are to emulate these proper mechanical structures in their own writing. And if the students don’t quite “take it all in,” the teacher may take 2.5 minutes here and there to show them what a damn verb is.”
“When I’m hoping for nothing more than 3-4 grammatically correct sentences being strung together at a time as the sign of a “good” paper, then my expectations have dropped far, far too low,” Archer concludes. “Yet, sadly, this is exactly to what I’ve resigned myself.”
Preach it, brother. And teach it.