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Margaret Boerner

Please let us see what your further answer was.

Carol Saller

I apologized for my insensitivity, and the writer was gracious about it. --Carol

Paula DuPont

I had a high school English teach who was definitely a bully, but she did give good advice. She told us that before we could break the rules, we had to learn them. I return to that little motto often.


I think one of the most difficult concepts for most of us to cccept when it comes to learning, whether about English, biology, or whatever, is that most every rule does have exceptions. We want things to be neat and tidy, and when they are not it irks us. But you can't start out with small children teaching them all the exceptions. Despite the fact that they will eventually have to be "deprogrammed" as it were, starting with rules seems the only sane way to teach. After all, you can't understand the exceptions until you understand the rule...except sometimes you probably can. :)


I think this whole topic cuts to the core of the sad fact that teachers feel they must posture themselves into looking like authorities in situations where, indeed, they are not. Children are capable of understanding that rules don't apply in all cases. Just one look at the many newsletters and memos that come home from teachers and administrators tells anyone with an eye for editing that many educators struggle with writing, often defaulting to the practice of using complicated language when a simple word or two would do.

L Cervantes

The best advice ever given is before you can break the rules of grammar and punctuation, you must learn them. So while they are in high school or lower, learn the rules! There will be enough time to break the rules later in life.


Amuck, not amok?

Andrea Wenger

Let's clarify something: The name of the book isn't "The Chicago Manual of Grammar," it's "The Chicago Manual of Style." There's no such thing as a style rule. By definition, style is a preference.

Grammar is another thing entirely. Grammar is the structural underpinning of language, and includes such things as syntax and subject-verb agreement. Most children know to say "feet are" instead of "feet is," or "black sweater" instead of "sweater black."

If a teacher wants to impose a style that says to use "amok" six days a week, but "amuck" on Thursdays, well then, it's probably best to follow that teacher's style as long as you're in that class. But it's not a rule, any more than using a comma after "finally" at the beginning of a sentence can be called a rule.

So it seems the real issue is that children are being taught style under the guise of grammar. If they were taught that grammar is fixed, while style is variable, then maybe they could understand a guideline that says, "While you're in my class, I expect you to use a comma after 'finally' at the beginning of a sentence, because it's generally a good style to follow." Then they won't go through life thinking that the lack of a comma in that context is a grammatical error.


Might I suggest that we become more comfortable in English with the concept that science and other subjects use routinely, the "lie-to-children"? It's a concept articulated by Terry Pratchett to explain those conepts we teach so that at a certain level of understanding it's true, but is in fact false, such as the idea that electrons are blobs that whizz around in circles around a nucleus. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously in physics would avoid such a simple and outdated notion, but to get to that point you first need to work with and understand the lie. In the same way, teach that "none" is always singular and that you must never split an infinitive, but make sure that by the time your pupil is an adult, they can happily and correctly ignore such rules when necessary.
Lies to Children


Maybe we need to think of it as learning fundamentals instead. You don't teach 6th graders to throw behind-the-back passes in basketball. It's not incorrect to do it, but you know that they're not at the skill level yet to be able to pull it off, so a 6th grade coach might prohibit that the kids even try it. But the coach wouldn't lie to the kids and say that behind-the-back passes are against the rules.


I just WISH my kids' teachers cared enough (or knew enough) to bother correcting their grammar. When I try to set them straight now, they roll their eyes. A few years ago, my son challenged his Gr. 5 teacher over a grammar issue, (she was wrong - he was right) and she ridiculed him in front of the class. He begged me to show him where the rule was written down so that he could defend himself then next day. Now my kids have given up. They just figure I'm a grammar weirdo: " My teachers don't care so why should you?"

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