Is it Cruel to Not Teach Grammar to Children?

Photo by: Alexandra.

Photo by: Alexandra.

This is the last of my posts reflecting on week one of UQx’s Write101x online course. For reasons that I reflected on here, I won’t call it a MOOC. I’m falling a little behind in my reflections and course content, and I have to play catchup.

In the first week of the course, one of our discussion topics was to reflect on a comment attributed to Dot Wordsworth, which I believe relates to this Telegraph article. Specifically, we needed to reflect on the comment that ‘it’s cruel to not teach children grammar’.

My initial reaction was that it is cruel to teach them grammar.

I then realised that if that was the case, why was I studying a course on grammar? After all, if it is cruel to teach grammar, why am I using my precious free time to learn about it?

Through further reflection, I came to realise that I had a biased view of grammar. Somewhere in the history of my schooling, I had linked grammar with a teacher like Miss Agatha Trunchbull. A character from one of my all time favourite books, by one of my all time favourite authors.

In reflecting on the statement by Dot Wordsworth, and the course content to date, three thoughts came together to change my mind:

First, was my reaction to this interview featuring Professor Fred D’Agostino, which is attributable to Write101x English Grammar and Style, developed by UQx and is part of the course content.

In the interview the enthusiasm that Professor D’Agostino has for the examples that he reads is infectious. It is clear to me that he, like Associate Professor Petelin, has a strong belief in the glamour of grammar.

The examples that Professor D’Agostino reads during the interview, cover a wide range of styles and content. The examples illustrate to me that a writer who has mastered grammar, can use it to evoke emotional responses in the reader. Or in this case both the reader and the listener.

Put simply, well constructed writing is capable of taking you on a journey devised by the author. Life would be a pale colourless existence without good writing. This includes both fiction and non-fiction writing. Because if a non-fiction author cannot maintain your attention, you are not going to learn what they want to teach.

If a child has within them the spark for this type of writing, and all they need is the solid foundation and scaffolding of spelling and grammar, would it not be cruel to deprive them of the opportunity? And even if they do not choose to write, understanding grammar will give them a better appreciation and understanding of what they read.

I have lost count of the characters I’ve known, worlds I’ve travelled true, and experiences I’ve shared, through reading. A better understanding of grammar will, I have no doubt, improve the reading experience.

Second, I thought of my career in Information Technology. It is possible to have a career in IT, and progress through the ranks, and not be a good communicator. But (and this is a big but) without good communication skills, it is impossible to progress very far. Communication skills in the workplace are paramount to career progression. Having your ideas, thoughts and plans heard is central to a fulfilling career.

This is particularly relevant as written communication is the prevailing form of business communication. I believe that with the rise of the Internet, social media, texting and other technologies, written communication is just as important, if not more so, now than in the past.

To give a child the best chance in their chosen career, and indeed even before they enter the workforce during their schooling, they need to have strong communication skills. Once again, would it not be cruel to deprive them of a strong foundation in spelling and grammar?

Lastly, I thought of my daughter. It has been only five short years since she was born, and with her arrival she changed my world view. Not only do I now have a significantly changed lens through which to examine the world, I can now take a peek through hers.

As with all parents, grand parent and guardians, I want the best for her.

Therefore, to deny her the opportunity to connect with readers of her writing, if she so choses, or to make it difficult to progress through her schooling and chosen career, or to in any way make life harder for her than it already will be, is an act of cruelty.

To that end, I find myself agreeing with Dot Wordsworth, and that it is cruel to not teach children grammar. With one important proviso, it must taught well and not by a teacher like Miss Agatha Trunchbull.