How important is grammar?
With my teacher hat on, I was on a training course for the new curriculum. The information was skewed heavily to literacy - I have a feeling that the lady was in her element with reading and writing.
I agreed with a lot of what she had to say, until we came to grammar. I'm sure we can all agree that it is important to write grammatically correct sentences, and then to employ proofreaders to try and catch all the mistakes that got away. But does a good writer - or a child, to be a good writer - need to know the correct terms for grammatical features?
The lady swung right into action, throwing around terms like 'upfront adverbials' and asking us to determine if a sentence was compound, complex or simple (I'll give you a clue; compound isn't related to having the conjunction 'and' in it).
Within five minutes we teachers were bored - a Mexican yawn passed around the room. I felt a pang of horror to think that we might tantalisingly offer our young minds something marvellous, like the Hobbit, to read, then strip it of all excitement by studying exactly what kind of sentences are in there. What's more, the trainer said this was crucial to be a good writer - but is it? Isn't it possible to write, to some extent, by instinct? To know how to use grammar without being able to name things correctly?
I was curious about my strong antagonism to what the trainer was saying. Was it just because I didn't know what she was talking about half the time? Was it because we all felt she was showing off and deliberately trying to make us feel underskilled?
I love words. You have to, as a writer. As a reader, too, that rush of warmth down your spine when you come across the perfect pairing of words, and know what craft went into choosing them - it's priceless. I never talked down to my babies, with bunny or gee-gee. I figured, if they were going to use a word, they might as well learn the right one straight away. I offered tyre alongside wheel and explained the difference. I pull them up, still (though gently) if they use a word wrongly, or mispronounce something. So why don't I believe that children need to know what an upfront adverbial is? Why doesn't it bother me that, for years, schools have called conjunctions 'connectives', which, said our trainer, there is no such thing as?
I think it's because, to me, the naming of these things doesn't add anything to what they are. Flower is generic; teach a child rose or daffodil and they have more power in their choice of vocabulary. They are enabled to communicate more effectively. Teach them Rosoideae and they are actually less able to communicate effectively except in exclusive circles. What you are really teaching them is how to make others feel excluded; it's jargon, and unnecessary. What it might do instead is turn hundreds of children off literacy - make it stale and dry. What a crime. If they don't need to know it, don't teach it to them. I don't believe for a second that it will make them a better writer. And if, as adults, they want to write for a living, and discover that knowing more grammatical terms will enable them to communicate better in online forums with other writers, or on courses to improve their writing - then it won't take long to learn.
Let's try to leave some pleasure in reading for the digital generations.