Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ignorance isn't bliss

I had one of these moments today when you don't know whether to be insufferably smug or deeply despairing. I settled for a bit of both and a curmudgeonly blog post. The occasion of this dilemma was a text from one of my former pupils, currently on placement in a school - not in Argyll - whose name is distinguished by having in it 2 ws, 2 ls and two os. You know who you are ...

Anyway, my FP was in heated debate with some English teachers who don't know their subjects from their objects and were about to mark as an error a sentence in a pupil's essay which read something like "Come to the park with Rachel and me." They apparently agreed it should be "Rachel and I". My FP, undaunted but requiring support, texted for confirmation that he was correct in shrieking at them that the pupil was correct. In a subsequent phone conversation, he reported that he had repeated my rule of thumb about removing the other person in the sentence - a rule devised for those for whom grammar is a mystery, and one which works a treat every time. He was recalling this from at least S2, if not S1, for that was when I'd spend at least a period on testing and teaching this point. I used to tell the pupils that they could have fun spotting all the people who habitually got it wrong - including, I would say, those who should know better.

And I would argue that English teachers fall into that category. Not only should they know this simple rule of thumb; they should know the grammar behind it. Dammit, if English teachers don't know about subjects and objects, and have at least a passing acquaintance with verbs and prepositions, what are they doing in the job? We may never have to teach parsing and analysis to a class of 10 year olds (for I was 10 when I reached my peak) but if we don't know what underpins our language then I believe we're failing our pupils and the next generation will have to rely on foreign linguists to make up the deficiencies.

Apparently his temporary colleagues were not well pleased to be told off by a student. He tells me they went off to look up a book in the hope of somehow proving him wrong. Good. They may yet have learned something.


  1. Anonymous7:56 PM

    When did it all go wrong? I (51 today) know all this grammar stuff, the children I taught in secondary 25+ years ago learned it, but my children (17 - 24) don't.

    A young NQT came to ask the other day if she was right to correct "I should of wrote" to "I should of written" I was privately appalled that she was so unsure about the wrote/written bit that she had to ask. And my tact was severely challenged by the fact that she had no notion there was a problem with the of/have element.

  2. I'm afraid it's not only this generation. I've been teaching MFL for 10 years now and every year I have to teach about subject and object (in english) to enable students to understand the nominative and accusative cases in German. I conservatively estimate that if students already possessed this basic knowledge I could spend another 3 lessons on the complexities of the German. It is not the teachers to blame but the lack of grammatical rigour in the curricula over the years.

  3. Anonymous12:15 AM

    When I was a student at Jordanhell (sic!) over 40 years ago, there was a student teacher of English who averred that no other teachers were necessary, because teachers of English encompassed all that was necessary for the modern child to know. There were others who felt themselves to be demeaned by being expected to teach basic literacy as an aid to their colleagues in other subjects. The dumb mantra was: "all teachers are teachers of English". (A lot of Bullocks, you might say, if you can remember the eponymous Report.) While this specious nonsense had, like all myths, a minuscule grain of truth in it, it led to the needless duplication and reduplication of effort in subjects where the time could have been better spent teaching that subject, and not the kind of basic literacy which teachers of English were then competent to impart. Self-esteem has a lot to answer for. It was only a matter of time before they ceased to help themselves to promote literacy in their own classrooms in favour of the peddling of pop psychology or whatever.

    The result of the last forty years' failure to realise that they also serve who serve not just themselves is the kind of cretinous ignorance encountered by your FP in what I hazard might be one of the suburbs to the south of Glasgow. Your FP deserves all the support that can be mustered.

    'Tis folly to be stupid - but it's all the rage.

  4. Anonymous9:55 AM

    I spotted this very same mistake in an article in the Guardian yesterday. Or should that be Grauniad?

  5. Anonymous11:17 PM

    I constantly have this argument with my boss who was taught - if that's the correct word? - at Strathallan.

  6. Dorothy - I long ago gave up on tact in this area!
    ABF - my FP refers back to me and then lets fly, I think.
    Ruth - time to call in the big guns and then there shouldn't be any more arguments. Not about this anyway.