A Broken SubjectThis is a remarkable passage.
At the start of this new millennium, throughout much of the K-12 English curriculum, grammar is a broken subject. If you find yourself just not knowing what to do about grammar-how to teach it, how to apply it, how to learn what you yourself were never taught-you are not alone. Grammar is often ignored, broken off altogether from the teaching of literature, rhetoric, drama, composition, and creative writing. Grammar is the skunk at the garden party of the language arts. Perhaps you've set aside time for labeling parts of speech, correcting errors, and modeling effective use of punctuation, but you may feel unmoored: you wonder whether the grammar you learned in school (what little there may have been) is sufficient or if the methods you learned by are up-to-date. And you certainly wouldn't be alone if you were embarrassed to reveal to your colleagues all that you don't know about grammar. Grammar feels like a frowning pedant reproaching you for not knowing enough about subject-verb agreement, for blithely ending sentences with prepositions, for splitting infinitives without even understanding what that means, for promiscuous use of commas and flagrant case violations. And, even if you speak and write with a confident tongue and well-schooled hand, you may tremble at the thought of trying to get your students to write complete sentences.
It takes as a given the fact that English teachers know nothing about grammar. Worse, not only do English teachers know nothing about grammar consciously, they (apparently) know little about grammar unconsciously (procedurally), either. Their own writing is distinguished by "promiscuous" use of commas and "flagrant" case violations.
Why are these people paid to teach writing?
You are not alone. The obstacles to revitalizing the teaching of grammar are several. One is that our profession has lost sight of the connection between studying grammar and learning to read and write. As Robert J. Connors recounted in "The Erasure of the Sentence," our interest in analyzing sentences has faded since the 1970s. Today it is the process of writing, along with originality, authenticity, and personal writing, that we value. The change has left sentence-level work--even such proven approaches as sentence combining-in shadow. We're not comfortable encouraging students to be original and authentic one minute and then assigning them exercises in sentence structure the next. Many English departments, and highly respected English teachers, argue forcefully that sentence-level work is mechanical, behavioristic, antihumanistic, and, most scorn-worthy of all, boring.I'm sorry.
An English teacher who has no interest in analyzing sentences is not an English teacher.
Writers write sentences. That's what writing is: it's writers writing sentences. The raw material of writing is the sentence, and a sentence is an essay in miniature.
The structure of every sentence is a lesson in logic.
John Stuart Mill (1773-1836)
The essential structure of the ordinary [English] sentence...is a noble thing.