The letter below was written in response to an article in The Australian and submitted for possible inclusion in the edition of Monday 8 December. It was not, however, selected for publication.
The teaching of grammar
I completely agree with Richard King on a couple of points: that the teaching of grammar is important; and that ideas and language skills are not mutually exclusive alternatives (Strictly speaking, grammar nuts have a point, 6-7/12).
However, some notes of caution need to be sounded. He reports that even his brightest students at the University of Notre Dame display far too many grammatical errors in their writing. That is not the case with the prospective secondary English teachers that I have as students at the University of Queensland. Perhaps variation in entry standards for different institutions is a relevant factor here.
King makes the rather sweeping generalisation that a whole generation of teachers - possibly even two - have no idea of how to teach grammar. The more moderate claim that some teachers would benefit from a greater understanding of grammar would probably have been closer to reality.
He attributes this state of affairs to policy decisions made as long ago as the 1970s. Given that King was apparently not born until 1971, I wonder how he acquired his knowledge of grammar if all of his own teachers were as ignorant as his statement suggests.
The English component of the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum has an appropriate focus on grammar but it does not invite an uncritical return to the generally ineffective ways of teaching grammar that prevailed in schools prior to the 1970s.
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)
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