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General Writing and Grammar Help/Language Devolution 4/29/2014 follow-up

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I know it's late to get back to this, but I did want to respond to your kind reply.

I think the problem started in 1966 when schools abandoned as too elitist "teaching a student to fish," principle-based, excellence-motivated education and went back to "giving a student a fish," rote-based, employment-motivated  education.  Soon electronics replaced young brains for calculations, and approximations were accepted as correct solutions in math.  Today, the young don't seem aware that there are principles governing science and language.  They are expected to memorize quantities of confusing data like science facts and spelling.  Their idea of grammar seems to be whatever is trendy.  They have never heard of conjugating a verb, diagramming a sentence, or paragraph structure; and I blame this ignorance for today's communication problem.  Grammar, now dismissed as stodgy, is the atomic structure of language, giving it its logic.  We sorely need logic back--and, besides, sentence diagramming, well-taught, is fun.  Virtually all of English grammar is brilliantly concised (my coinage) in the latest edition of the small Harbrace College Handbook from Harcourt Brace & Company, which every English speaker should own.

Answer
Hodges
Hodges  
Dear Mabel:

I apologize for not responding sooner.  I have been undergoing monthly treatments [eyeball injections] for macular degeneration in my right eye.  The shots themselves are not that bad, but for several days afterward, the swelling and redness hinder my vision.

******

You wrote these words:     I know it's late to get back to this, but I did want to respond to your kind reply.

I think the problem started in 1966 when schools abandoned as too elitist "teaching a student to fish," principle-based, excellence-motivated education and went back to "giving a student a fish," rote-based, employment-motivated  education.  Soon electronics replaced young brains for calculations, and approximations were accepted as correct solutions in math.  Today, the young don't seem aware that there are principles governing science and language.  They are expected to memorize quantities of confusing data like science facts and spelling.  Their idea of grammar seems to be whatever is trendy.  They have never heard of conjugating a verb, diagramming a sentence, or paragraph structure; and I blame this ignorance for today's communication problem.  Grammar, now dismissed as stodgy, is the atomic structure of language, giving it its logic.  We sorely need logic back--and, besides, sentence diagramming, well-taught, is fun.  Virtually all of English grammar is brilliantly concised (my coinage) in the latest edition of the small Harbrace College Handbook from Harcourt Brace & Company, which every English speaker should own.

****

I graduated from a West Virginia high school in 1959.  The school was no-nonsense.  We were taught the basics and not the current "gimmicks."  [I would never have survived transformational grammar or the New Math.]  I credit my excellent high school education to the teachers -- at least, most of them -- who made the subjects seem valuable.  In my junior year, I had the "dreaded" Miss Geraldine Bosworth.  Most students entered her classroom trembling.  Early in the year, she asked four of us to see her after class:  She was proposing a 7:00 a.m. [daily] volunteer session for vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, and other subjects that would appear on the National Merit Scholarship Examination.  Our school day began at 8:15 and all of us were involved in extracurricular activities.  Nevertheless, we accepted her offer.  Two of us attended the special session throughout the year.  Two of us received National Merit Scholarships!

Throughout high school, we used the Warriner grammar books.  I was first introduced to Hodges in my freshman year of college.  When I began teaching at a prep school near Philadelphia, Warriners was used.  After three years, I became department head and Hodges became the standard text.  At the university from which I retired three years ago, Hodges was the "standard."  Most professors would correct essays with a word, phrase, or punctuation marked circled.  One professor wrote the Hodges rule [17b, e.g.] and expected the students to look up the rule, correct the text, and submit a revision.

I mentioned the "gimmicky" things.  While I was at the prep school, I fired three teachers.  None had a interest in teaching.  One teacher offered a course entitled, "Moby Dick and anything else you want to do."  On bad-weather days, his class met in a classroom.  When the weather was good, they went to a nearby lake to build a rowboat!

I was particularly hard on my students.  I initiated the Advanced Placement Program in English.  I was very demanding.  The students grumbled, but they never missed class and their essays showed improvement.  Although decades have passed, several of them are still in touch with me.  They are grateful for putting them "a step ahead" of other students when they got to college.

In one summer school session, while working on my M.A. at Bucknell University, the brilliant Shakespeare professor [who later became my thesis adviser] spoke with me after class.  There was a very intelligent undergraduate student in our Shakespeare seminar.  His name was Mike, and he was a math-and-science person. He had a 4.0 GPA.  He took two English classes that summer, hoping to complete his humanities requirements with "fair" grades.  He was also on the track team.  He was a long-distance runner.  His background in all things English was terrible.  The prof asked me to be Mike's mentor.  I even attended his other [undergraduate] class in the English novel, just so I would know what he was expected to learn. [And, I also grew to appreciate Thomas Hardy, so it was a win-win situation.]

So many times during that seven-week period, Mike would wonder, "Why didn't I learn this in high school?"  Through my encouragement, Mike began hanging out with the graduate students.  At first, he never opened his mouth.  Then, he started joining the conversations.  He gained the respect from the rest of us, because he could present an idea AND support his belief.  

The library closed at 2:00 a.m.  The student union closed at midnight.  Mike and I worked together in the lobby of my dorm when the campus was sleeping.  Shortly thereafter, Mike became my roommate.  He even got me to run at 6:00 a.m.

I am no longer in contact with him.  His two grades that summer were A and A-.  He did his own work; I critiqued his work.

I am telling this story because of Mike's question:  Why didn't I learn this in high school?

I get questions at Allexperts that are written as text messages.  Some of the abbreviations are beyond me.  I have come up with a standard rejection:  "I read and write only English.  I do not understand your language."

Mabel, thank you for sharing your views with me.  I do not feel quite so "alone."  I wish we could get together to discuss the current state of education.  I have a feeling that we are "comrades."

Incidentally, I use the 14th edition [2001] of Hodges.  I believe that the latest edition was published in 2012 -- the 18th.

Ted

P. S.  Would you mind evaluating my answer.  If you do not complete the evaluation form, Allexperts keeps your message in my inbox as an "unanswered question."  Thank you.  

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Ted Nesbitt

Expertise

I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

Education/Credentials
B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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