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Getting Back to Grammar


Q. Why do older people often decry the loss of grammar instruction in schools? Isn't that basically irrelevant in this day and age?


Grammar is so central to the logic of our language that a lack of understanding of it is as detrimental as a lack of understanding of the basic logorithms of arithmetic. It's the mortar for the building blocks of our language, the foundation of effective communication. It's the reason elementary schools used to be called "grammar" schools.


The absence of it is why people cannot communicate clearly and coherently. When parents and taxpayers call out for "back to the basics" reforms, they're usually thinking of grammar instruction high on the list of things they believe kids need.


Ironically, it appears that the only students who are being taught English grammar systematically and specifically are the children of foreigners, for whom English is a second language. Native-born children of generations of English-speaking American parents are not likely to get much grammar at all. Why not? For the most part, their teachers never got grammar instruction, either. It was dropped in the loosey goosey 1960s, unfortunately, and is only now climbing its way back.


Parents and taxpayers should campaign with teachers, administrators and school boards for a quality grammar program such as Shurley Grammar or Jensen Grammar. A British product which is well-recommended is GCSE English Grammar from CGP Books.


If your district or school won't address the need for in-class grammar instruction, you might be advised to scour second-hand bookshops and look online on and other sites for an old-fashioned textbook to afterschool your child yourself. Examples: First Aid in English by Angus Maciver; Rediscover Grammar by David Crystal, and Teach Yourself English Grammar by B. Pythian.


Homework: If your child is in later grade school and your school doesn't appear to be adopting a good grammar program any time, soon, you might investigate a short, intensive Latin course on an afterschool basis, through a tutor.


By Susan Darst Williams Writing 12 2008


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