Teaching Smart vs. not LO13598

Ray Evans Harrell (mcore@IDT.NET)
Tue, 13 May 1997 22:02:12 -0700

Replying to LO13583 --

> David E. Birren said:
> My daughter is graduating from high school in a month and she is not only
> a poor speller but she doesn't have a good grasp of grammar, such as "its"
> vs. "it's". She also writes both run-on sentences and non-sentences.
> After years of frustration with the schools and her mother, who is an
> elementary-level teacher, I am just beginning to sense that she is
> learning how important good language skills are. She is extremely bright,
> but I'm afraid it will be a painful path as she learns in college what she
> should have been taught in grammar school. There's a reason it used to be
> called "grammar" school.
> There's just no substitute for knowing how to use the tools.


I just have a moment but this subject is so dear to my heart that I
couldn't pass it up. I realize that what I am writing and what I hear you
saying are two different things, however, there are always elements that
you have to give up in the application of any single pedagogy.

I walk very carefully around professional teachers who must deal not only
with children and their queries but who must listen to professionals
(parents) in other fields who are useful in their insights but who often
confuse the teacher's open ear with approval. Just because a high school
math teacher could have analyzed that mirror and found the mistake on the
Hubbell before it was launched does not mean that he could have designed
it or planned its construction. IMHO the reverse is true as well.
Discussion about education on many of these business lists walks very
close to the edge of doing a role reversal and making the teacher the
student of the parents. Who knows why the Hubbell flaw was ignored? Im
sure that there was reason and that it probably had to do with some valid
business criteria that screwed the American taxpayer as well as NASA. The
decisions made by business are usually so short range (long range being
three to five years) that the 12 year development of a child is time
enough in the business world for a couple of companies to go in and out of
existance. Im often amused when I hear someone brag about their
companys existing for 25 years as if it were time enough to seriously
develop a complicated product in all its societal/cultural/economic

As a remedy for this I would suggest a read in the William Greider book
"One World, Ready or Not" for a fairly disgusting description of the
apocalypse that world business may very well create for us. Given that
situation created by the parents of today's children, I don't believe any
of us have much room for confidence on this one.

David, I am the proud Father of a Fourteen year old who has qualified for
the best schools in the NYCity school system. I have also been shocked,
when talking to the Doctors who treat these kids, at the high level of
stress related illnesses amongst these children. "Testing" stress levels
are far and above anything that we experienced in the 1950s and 60s.

My daughter has just completed a geology course that I had at the
University but she just graduated from Jr. High. This course was the base
course for geology majors at the University of Tulsa which is a world
class school in petroleum engineering. Her Math and Science courses are
top drawer and she writes poetry with an understanding that is beyond many
of the students (adults) who come to study singing with me.

Her school, a "magnet school," was excellent academically while being
located in the worst drug neighborhood in Manhattan. I would be tempted
to make generalizations about that except, for the fact that NYMagazine
recently did a story on the children in the upper class private schools
where the problem of drugs and sex were no less pervasive then my child
has had to learn to negotiate. I wonder if I could have done nearly as
well as she. I rather doubt it. Ours was a simpler time.

Do we actually believe that there is not correlation between advanced
intellectual courses and advanced social behavior? These children have
seen what I experienced when I was in college and they are doing many of
my college courses as well. Especially technology courses having to do
with logic. Try talking to an eighth grader who has an already developed
skill in symbolic logic. Sometimes all you can offer is love and

As for "grammar" fixing sentence construction, it does. But English
grammar is not nearly as important as, understanding the different ways
that people communicate grammatically. For this, from the very beginning,
English grammar has been reactive from other grammars. But what do we
absolutely discourage in school? foreign languages until it is too late
for the "formal comparative grammatical synapses" to be in place in the
brains of our children. Plato suggested that this "formularity" of the
senses began in teaching children the visual, aural and kinesthetic
abstract pleasurable forms of art. Given the recent research, he got it

I quote from "English Grammars and English Grammar" by Robert L. Allen:

"Latin, which had long had great prestige was looked upon as a model, not
only for English literature but also for the English language.
Shakespeare (who finished his last play Henry the VIII in 1613) had
apparently relied on his own feeling for the English language when
expressing even the most subtle thoughts; Dryden (d.1700), on the
contrary, admitted that in order to decide how to express his ideas
"correctly," he sometimes translated his sentences into Latin and then
back into English again... (The first English 'grammar' was the Preface
to Samuel Johnson's Dictionary in 1755)"

Does it not suggest that it is the usage of fine speech and dramatic
skills that created Shakespeare's "feeling" for the language? I find
that most writing on the net for example is like doing a speed chess
game. There is very little time to explore, just slam, bang and your
done. And then you have the comedian Bill Maher asking what a society
needs the arts for, as if good communication wasn't one of the arts.

Robert L. Allen continues:
"Other writers of the eighteenth century, most notably certain
grammarians, were less cautious in their statements. Some felt that the
English language needed to be reduced to rules based on reason and then
fixed permanently in this desired form; they believed that the usage of
English-speaking people would be 'corrected' and made to conform to
these rules. Once they had written down their rules, no matter how
arbitrarily chosen, they had little hesitation in attacking even the
best writers of their day for not abiding by them."
(English Grammars and English Grammar, Robert L. Allen, Scribners

David, I can hear you saying "but I just want her to write whole
sentences, not do run-on sentences and know the difference between 'its'
and 'it's'." Considering her Mother and Fathers intelligence, I can't
imagine this being an issue for more than a couple of weeks in college.
My point is that there are many new and different things being taught in
school and that what we were taught as "important" was just as
exclusionary in its own bias as the new curriculums.. We all use our
"Harcourt Brace" and our "Little Brown" grammar books. The problem is
to keep and develop the individuality of our voices. This computer
doesn't like my forms much, but its forms are dull and imprecise much of
the time and it can't stand the most common linguistic form in Cherokee
culture, the passive sentence. Tough!

May our children prosper.

Ray Evans Harrell, artistic director
The Magic Circle Chamber Opera of New York


Ray Evans Harrell <mcore@IDT.NET>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>