My Thoughts on Grammar

As a student, I LOVE grammar. I love thinking about it- I find diagramming sentences one of those eerily calming things to do in my mind. It’s like my version of a rubik’s cube. I went to Catholic school all my life, and those nuns and brothers really held “proper grammar” next to godliness. For me, these lessons just clicked. I was also a native English speaker, an avid reader, and had a mother as an English teacher. I very clearly see that my elementary and secondary education was rooted in a white, religious, middle-class experience.

Therefore, I cannot in good faith use my experience of learning grammar as a measure for my students. I believe that using my narrow definition of what I was taught was “proper grammar” would be a racist, classist, xenophobic way of teaching. Besides, who wants to be that person on Facebook who tries to end an argument by saying “you’re*?” As Dunn stated, “As a recent rhetorical analysis of grammar rants has demonstrated, many such rants are laced with moral judgments about the departure from allegedly proper grammar. In a disturbing, repeating trend, the offending speaker or writer is seen as uneducated and lazy, the latter judgment being connected not too subtly to one of the Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth).” I certainly don’t want to lay a curriculum’s foundation on being a jerk.

That being said, as I teach business writing, grammar is part of many different lessons. As we discuss the proper tone and formality for an external business presentation, or an email to your boss, grammar inevitably comes into play. Dunn’s quote of Elizabeth Wardle really put my teaching into perspective when she says “’There is no such thing as writing in general.’ Every writing project is constrained by previous iterations of that type of writing. Is it a memo, résumé, game manual, business plan, film review?” Since there is no such thing as writing, can there even be such thing as proper grammar in general?

Similar to Dunn’s point above, I try to focus on how writing will need to ebb and flow to accommodate different audiences and different workplaces. My goal is to make flexible writers- and their flexibility will make them strong writers, and good writers. We talk endlessly about industry terminology, similar to Harris’s note on COIK. We address those challenges together and make sure when we are reading student writing that they define any acronyms or industry terms that the other students wouldn’t know. It’s a collective learning- a future lawyer can learn more about a future computer engineer’s world, and the engineer can practice being explicit in different formats, and making their writing clear for a lay audience.

I took a grammar class in college and was super proud of an essay I wrote entitled “I Give a Fuck About an Oxford Comma,” just to come to realize that it truly does not matter. When ESL students are working so hard to move from one language to another, they’re doing four times the work I will ever do to express myself in English. That by itself is cause for celebration and acknowledgment. Instead of saying “this is a run-on sentence” I try to say things like, “this sentence isn’t clear to me. How can we rephrase what you’re trying to say?” so that they can think through how to improve their writing in real time.

While I don’t grade based on grammar, I do have a PowerPoint presentation of grammar memes. It’s a list of 20 common grammar mistakes, and we talk about them as a class, and then work it out in sentences. Many students find it mildly entertaining, and have a moment of clarity with at least one, but I’ve long since abandoned my thought that seeing one meme will change a writing style that is years in the making. Instead, my hope is that by encouraging them to read and assigning them different types of writing throughout the semester, they will naturally experiment with different types of writing and their grammar will develop as well.

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