Tag Archives: Higher education

Rant:: 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

By GEOFFREY K. PULLUM

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.

I won’t be celebrating.

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.

The authors won’t be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte’s Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk’s death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.

This was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents. Strunk had very little analytical understanding of syntax, White even less. Certainly White was a fine writer, but he was not qualified as a grammarian. Despite the post-1957 explosion of theoretical linguistics, Elements settled in as the primary vehicle through which grammar was taught to college students and presented to the general public, and the subject was stuck in the doldrums for the rest of the 20th century.

Notice what I am objecting to is not the style advice in Elements, which might best be described the way The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes Earth: mostly harmless. Some of the recommendations are vapid, like “Be clear” (how could one disagree?). Some are tautologous, like “Do not explain too much.” (Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn’t.) Many are useless, like “Omit needless words.” (The students who know which words are needless don’t need the instruction.) Even so, it doesn’t hurt to lay such well-meant maxims before novice writers.

Even the truly silly advice, like “Do not inject opinion,” doesn’t really do harm. (No force on earth can prevent undergraduates from injecting opinion. And anyway, sometimes that is just what we want from them.) But despite the “Style” in the title, much in the book relates to grammar, and the advice on that topic does real damage. It is atrocious. Since today it provides just about all of the grammar instruction most Americans ever get, that is something of a tragedy. Following the platitudinous style recommendations of Elements would make your writing better if you knew how to follow them, but that is not true of the grammar stipulations.

via 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I’ve read the book while in college. I’ve always cringed when people call it a writing bible, and the like. It was especially irritating when people I admired held it in awe. I must admit that I was irritated because I kept on asking myself if I was stupid or something because I never was awed.  I’ve always felt that when our professors or other people we admire declares something we either auto shutdown our brains. This happens whether we are an auto agree type of person or if we are the contrarian type. This is wrong. We should not fall into these bad habits of the mind.

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Minor Rant :Knowing and Doing: August 2009 Archives

This actually made me somewhat sad. I remember meeting people from other colleges in UP (College of Arts and Letters etc) who really dreaded taking Math 1 and Math2 , the basic math course of the University of the Philippines General Education program, then they instituted RGEP (forgot what this means)  wherein students got to choose the basic or general education courses they took. I feel this is contributing to the lack of whole roundness of UP grads, and in a way is leading to a decline, We often hear “I’m just not good in math etc” but the reality is if we try hard enough  we can overcome our fear of math and other subjects. The truth is that I find math hard , but I do not let that fear control me. RGEP was a way for people to evade, sometimes I fear for our future.

If only those people knew that many computer scientists feel the same way. We are in awe. At one level, we feel like this is way over our heads, too. How could these programmers done so much with so little? Wow. But then we take a breath and realize that we have the tools we need to dig in and understand how this stuff works. Having some training and experience, we can step back from our awe and approach the code in a different way. Like a scientist. And anyone can have the outlook of a scientist.

via Knowing and Doing: August 2009 Archives.

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Chris Blattman’s Blog: Is college the new high school?

Higher Education
Image by JohnConnell via Flickr

Forgive me for the old they don’t make em like they used to rirades but they actually don’t.

Is college the new high school?

A liberal arts English professor writing in Inside Higher Ed:

After too many years at this job (I am in my mid-40s), I have grown to question higher education in ways that cannot be rectified by a new syllabus, or a sabbatical, or, heaven forbid, a conference roundtable. No, my troubles with this treasured profession are both broad and deep, and they begin with a fervent belief that most of today’s college students, especially those that come to college straight from high school, are unnecessarily coddled. Professors and administrators seek to “nurture” and “engage” and they are doing so at the expense of teaching. The result: a discernable and precipitous decline in the quality of college students. More of them come to campus with dreadful study habits. Too few of them read for pleasure. Too many drink and smoke excessively. They are terribly ill-prepared for four years of hard work, and most dangerously, they do not think that college should be arduous. Instead they perceive college as an overnight recreation center in which they exercise, eat, and in between playing extracurricular sports, they carry books around. If a professor is lucky, the books are being skimmed hours before class.

Via MR.

Chris Blattman’s Blog: Is college the new high school?.

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