Fitness or Formality, Fruitcake or Fudge? A Retrospective on Grammar in the English Curriculum. Phil Norman Explores the History of Approaches to Grammar in the English Curriculum in the Last 40 Years, and Calls for a More Open Approach to Content and Pedagogy

By Norman, Phil | English Drama Media, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Fitness or Formality, Fruitcake or Fudge? A Retrospective on Grammar in the English Curriculum. Phil Norman Explores the History of Approaches to Grammar in the English Curriculum in the Last 40 Years, and Calls for a More Open Approach to Content and Pedagogy


Norman, Phil, English Drama Media


BLACKADDER: Baldrick, I have a cunning plan, a plan to test your grammar--all for your own good.

BALDRICK: Why? What's my gramma ever done to you Mr. B?

BLACKADDER: Grammar, Baldrick, not grandma.Grammar and parsing?

BALDRICK: And a sad day it were too when my grammar parsed away Mr. B.

BLACKADDER: Why do I bother? But, no matterBaldrick, using my unique strategy I'll teach you grammar and show good Queen Bess real progress, even if it takes me twenty years.

For nearly a century subject English has witnessed some of its most virulent argument over probably its least taught area, English grammar. But, like some persistently noxious 'dog-dirt' of the curriculum, grammar refuses to be swept under the carpet, unsmelt by its advocates and adversaries alike. Grammar lurks ever-ready to provoke debate, complaint and even outright warfare. Yet after years of national strategies and national curricula, asking any Baldrick on the school English corridor about modifiers, modals or participles is most likely to draw answers like 'Say again Mr. B ...?'

What grammar comprises, and what its teaching promises our 21st century students, needs far more systematic analysis than can be provided here. However, some perspectives on school grammar are worth reviewing now, at a time of challenges to national testing, and new knowledge combinations in 14-19 diplomas. In particular, after all the developments of recent years, is grammar still one side of a recurrent dichotomy with 'personal growth' English?

Discourses of English grammar

Textbook introductions, examination specifications, official report rationales and the like frequently cite the past when promoting their own ideologies of grammar. This article is no different. There is something compelling about reviewing the history of the debate: such reviews show how we have periodically scented the whiff of grammar's rich fruitcake but also reveal the folly of past fudges.

Put crudely, an essentially liberal humanist view of English looked, before the 1970s, to provide a proper and practical content for improving learners' prospects by finding a better way towards the world of work, and thereby emancipating society. This tradition was bound up with a robustly structural view of language that considered English's grammar content as having fixed syntactic and inflexional structures. These language structures were to be learned and controlled by young minds as yet uninformed about 'standard', authoritative and socially acceptable language.

From the 1970s onward a series of now well-elaborated political, cultural and social critiques of schooling, social equality and power formed the theoretical background to shifting perspectives on the validity of much of subject English's former content and purpose. These critiques challenged the authority of 'standard' forms of language, and the cultural and social ideals that underpinned them. It also exposed the normative nature of much taught language that had hitherto been considered certain and structurally firm, if not entirely fixed. Simultaneously these critiques questioned the certainty that language and grammar are socially neutral goods, accessible to all through diligent study, and a beneficial educational provision towards individuals' betterment and a more equal society. This series of theoretical transitions, succinctly set out by Nick Peim (2009), provides the background for radical changes in ideas about school grammar, and its ideological and pedagogical implications (see e.g. Carter 1990).

These changes, however, stalled in schools in the 1990s, only to become enmeshed in national controls over curriculum, examinations, school improvement, inspection and league tables that confounded theoretically informed thinking about subject English. The power to create and legitimate discourses of subject English, including its grammar content, has since lain firmly in the hands of coercive policy--a scenario now so familiar that it seems almost invisible, and whose passing would in turn unsettle many. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Fitness or Formality, Fruitcake or Fudge? A Retrospective on Grammar in the English Curriculum. Phil Norman Explores the History of Approaches to Grammar in the English Curriculum in the Last 40 Years, and Calls for a More Open Approach to Content and Pedagogy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.