better able to edit the surface features of their writing.
Will the public be satisfied? Probably yes, at least partly. The expressions of concern about writing are almost never occasioned by, or exemplified by, problems such as poor organization, inadequate development, inappropriate tone, etc. Rather, the handwringing attaches to bad spelling and punctuation and to the grosser errors in linguistic etiquette. If we can show that language arts instruction has improved on these problems, then public criticism will, I think, be considerably diminished.
But will literacy have been improved significantly? That, I think, is the serious question which we must raise both for our own professional consideration in rationalizing our instructional goals and methods and also for the larger public policy discussions. For I sense that once again unrealistic hopes are being raised for “grammar.” I have tried to show through my close specification of answers to “Why teach grammar?” that the benefits which can possibly be claimed are few and modest, even when accepted collectively. But especially when we consider the benefit which overwhelmingly justifies grammar instruction—error avoidance—we see how narrow is the base on which such great expectations are founded.
I am not saying that we shouldn't teach grammar. We should, both grammar-2 and grammar-3. And we should do it more interestingly and effectively so that in fact our students are more knowledgeable about the structure of English and are better editors. But we should not allow the current enthusiasm for grammar to distort the curriculum. True literacy is more than the negative virtue of not making mistakes, and it cannot be attained primarily through analyzing sentences and memorizing rules. Reading and writing must remain the center of the language arts curriculum, “basics” which we must be prepared to explain and defend to colleagues, administrators, school boards, and the public.
Arthur, Bradford. Teaching English to Speakers of English. New York: Harcourt, 1973.
Braddock, Richard, R. Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer. Research in Written Composition. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1963.
Elley, W. B., I. H. Barham, H. Lamb, and M. Wyllie. The Role of Grammar in a Secondary School Curriculum. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research, 1979.
Emery, D., J. Kierzek, and P. Lindblom. English Fundamentals, 6th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1978.
Kolln, M. “Closing the Books on Alchemy.” College Composition and Communication 32 (May 1981): 139–151.
NCTE Commission on Composition. “Teaching Composition: A Statement.” Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 1974.
Sherwin, J. Four Problems in Teaching English: A Critique of Research. Scranton, Pennsylvania: International Textbook, 1969.
Warriner, J. E. “The Teaching of Composition.” Pamphlet published by Harcourt School Department, n.d.
Williams, J. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman, 1981.
1. Think about Tabbert's distinctions among the various meanings of “grammar.” Explain grammar-1, grammar-2, and grammar-3 in a paragraph each. Cite an example of each that is not mentioned in the article.
2. Tabbert says that grammar-2 and grammar-3 are “fundamentally different in nature” (p. 246). We can grant that point, and yet it seems that some concerns of grammar-3 can be explained in grammatical terms. For example, at