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The Importance of Grammar

As a former high school English teacher, I have strong opinions about the importance of teaching what is broadly known as grammar. I'm not alone. They are shared by college professors who have to read and grade student essays ("Welcome Back, My Ungrammatical Students," The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 3).

The problem is that grammar, which once was given high priority in most schools, is now considered secondary to content in the minds of most teachers in K-12. They argue that it stands in the way of students expressing themselves. I understand their concern, but I believe that creativity and grammar are compatible. In fact, the inability to use correct grammar, which includes usage, syntax and punctuation, undermines the purpose for writing.

When I was in middle school, my English teachers spent considerable time teaching grammar. The textbook was Warriner's English Grammar and Composition. We diagrammed sentences and did exercises identifying parts of speech and other basics that few students today ever learn. I immediately saw the connection to written expression. Critics, however, claim that the entire subject turns off students. It certainly has that potential, but with a little imagination English teachers can actually make the process fun.

I'm referring now to 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' : Punctuation and It's Discontents (Gotham Books, 2004). Lynne Truss uses humor to make learning mechanics more palatable for all but the most recalcitrant students. (The book has appeal beyond the classroom because it was at the top of the British best seller list for a time.) Whatever book is used, however, the goal is to help students understand how and why correct grammar is indispensable.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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