Monday, May 20, 2013

In praise of Dennis Baron and his focus on "Too Much Grammar" (and a tribute to Aaron Swartz)

Dennis Baron wrote an eloquent attack on the over-focus of teachers on Grammar:   oops... I can't find that essay because it is blocked by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The essay has attracted the attention of dozens of academics

When you click on the link on Rebecca Moore Howard's site, guess what you get?

You can't find the article.

The remedy?  Get the content of these academic journals into the open.   Let's take a moment to think about Aaron Swartz.

Here's a link to explain why we should give a new name to a "Terabyte" -- one Swartz.

So, let's get Professor Baron's essay into the public domain:

Here is the same message on Dr. Baron's Web of Language blog

Click and make a difference
YourNetEffect has impact
My point, if you’re waiting for the sound bite, is that mastering commas has little to do with standard English, and mastering standard English—if standard English can even be defined—doesn’t guarantee good writing.

The oft-repeated demand to rethink teaching by teaching more grammar is not the answer (and teaching the comma is not teaching grammar, it’s teaching punctuation). When American schools began requiring grammar in the nineteenth century, teachers, not students, complained that the subject was too hard for them. They were told by school authorities, “Just stay a page ahead of your students, you’ll do fine.” When after a few decades of mandatory grammar lessons it became evident that student writing still wasn’t where it needed to be, the schools dropped grammar as deadening and ineffective. With student writing still an issue, critics want grammar back in the classroom. If nothing else, this cycling in and out of grammar should tell us that writing and grammar aren’t really connected.
The Web Of Language
There’s a reason to study grammar: it reveals the structure underlying human communication, and human communication is, well, it’s what we do. But studying grammar won’t help us communicate better any more than studying the internal combustion engine will help us to be better drivers.
What can make writers better is more writing. Writing more doesn’t always work: the best writers sometimes fall flat, the worst sometimes fail to improve, and the mediocre may stay stuck in the middle. But writing, both for practice and for real, works better to improve writing than sentence diagrams, comma drills, and mantras like “a noun is the name of a person, place or thing” (should there be a comma after place?). The problem, for the schools, is that writing takes time. It’s a messy process. Improvement isn’t linear. It requires one-on-one feedback from an engaged audience. It’s labor-intensive. It can’t be taught by machine. It’s expensive.
On the other hand, writing is also something that, thanks to the digital revolution, more and more people are doing not just for work and school, but also voluntarily, for their own benefit. Schools tend to dismiss the kind of writing that appears on Facebook, Twitter, IM, texting, and blogs as trivial, even detrimental to the development of good writers. But maybe we should rethink how we teach by looking at what writers do when they tweet and post. And that in turn might shed some light on what writers do when they write essays, poems, grant proposals, quarterly earnings reports, or constitutions. (Hint: they don’t check Strunk and White every time they’re not sure where to put the comma.)
Get this blog post here.

Thank you for clicking and sharing this giant's words.
Still, it is nice to read the writing tips by E.B. White and Strunk.

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