When I was a kid, I went to grammar school. The kids in my neighborhood who went to public school called it elementary. But the nuns called ours grammar school – and the name was well-deserved.
Every year, we studied our language and its structure. We learned the parts of speech and how they go together. We diagrammed sentences. We took words apart and studied how they were put together. Every year, for eight years.
The result is predictable: my friends now all turn to me when they have questions about English.
Schools now do such a disservice to our kids! Grammar is touched on, a little, but mostly they learn ‘whole language’ or how to ‘express themselves.’ Both of those are important, of course – but only later; how can you possibly express yourself well if you don’t know anything about the words you’re using? That’s like trying to build a house if you don’t know what a nail is.
Most of my community college students arrived in my foreign language classes ignorant of their own language, English. They got angry – justifiably – when they discovered how much had been withheld from them in school. It’s not their fault that we have to waste our foreign-language class time explaining English to them; a couple of years (or even a few semesters!) of grammar in 3rd or 4th grade is obviously not enough study time to allow anyone to master their native language!
Everyone knows that English is the national language in the US, even if it isn’t legislated. Every immigrant who comes here knows they need to master English to get ahead. Yet most of my ESL students (those learning English as a foreign language) know far more about English than my American students. How unfair is that?
Is it a deliberate scheme on the part of our government and school districts, to keep us ignorant and thus easily governable? If so, it’s working perfectly. If not, it needs to be addressed. Soon!