Why Grammar?

I admit that I am old enough to have graduated from high school before grade inflation. When I was in high school a “C” was truly the average grade and nothing to be ashamed of. Now my high school students get upset sometimes with a “B”–and many of those times I think I am being generous!

Ironically, while the grades have grown higher, the output, especially in English, has diminished. A few years ago I attended a college reunion at Harvard. A friend who is about 15 years older than I counseled me that I might be disappointed. He said that many of his classmates looked down a friend who was a high school principal. His friend got very defensive: “I like kids,” he explained to his classmates who were doctors and lawyers and business executives.

I am happy to say that I did not have that same experience. Almost to a person, my classmates said, “I hope you are teaching them to write well,” or “I hope you are teaching them standard grammar” or some such similar thing. They each told me horror stories of people they had employed–many with advanced degrees–who were unable to communicate. One friend, now a history professor, said that at his school most kids take five years to graduate because it takes a year of remedial courses to get them up to a college level. Even then, he said, it is not a very high level. I got similar reports from people in business and engineering.

Regardless of what field people work in, they need to be able to communicate effectively. They could be doing some great cutting-edge research, but if they cannot tell others about it, it is useless.

Yes, my students may sometimes complain that I am not an easy “A,” but I try to be realistic and honest with them. They say that grade inflation was an offshoot of the self-esteem movement. Perhaps. But I believe self-esteem is more honest if it is based on actual accomplishments and skills.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *