Why learning to “right” ‘gorgeous’ sentences isn’t enough

learning grammar fundamentals

Students who can’t write complete sentences deserve a hall pass, according to teachers who were interviewed for an Aug. 2, 2017, article in The New York Times. “A Wakeup Call on Writing Instruction (Now, What’s an Adverb?)” suggests that learning grammar fundamentals stifles creativity.

The Snapchat generation is woefully lacking in grammar basics. Three-quarters of 12th- and eighth-graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. Even more sobering, about 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills to complete a college-level English composition class, the organization reported on page 21 of a 2017 readiness benchmark document.

One of the teachers The New York Times interviewed said she’s impressed when students write “gorgeous” sentences, even if they disregard capitalization and punctuation rules. Other educators who were interviewed said students don’t like to learn grammar because it’s boring. They fear that making students learn subject-verb agreement impedes their artistic freedom.

While I agree that diagramming sentences isn’t fun, learning grammar, punctuation and spelling is critical to succeeding in life. How can students write “gorgeous” content if they don’t understand basic sentence structure or punctuation? They might be able to “rite” texts (OMG!) or social media posts about their BFFs, but what happens when they must write college essays? I doubt their professors would grade their papers with, “U ROC dude!”

Assuming the students graduate from college, they’ll face the scary proposition of writing their first professional resumes and cover letters. Employers are ruthless about weeding out candidates whose documents are riddled with errors. If they find jobs anyway, they’ll face many situations where they’ll need to be competent in basic business communications. If they don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” the importance of writing in active voice and how to compose complete sentences, they won’t get far.

English teachers are adopting the idea of “a musical notion of writing – the hope that the ear can be trained to ‘hear’ errors and imitate quality prose,” according to The New York Times article. I’ve heard a few singers who can’t stay on pitch, despite their best efforts. They don’t learn how to sing on key by simply listening to music. Similarly, expecting students to learn grammar through osmosis is unrealistic – like learning math by watching “A Beautiful Mind.”

Dumbing down for grammar isn’t smart, nor does it prepare students for success later in life. It only makes them “dum.”

Do you think focusing on grammar affects personal expression? Let us know in the comments below.

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