Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Grammar and Autonomy

In his book, The War Against Grammar, David Mulroy argues that grammar instruction early in school can give students autonomy. By instilling a sense of what can be effective and clear in writing, it frees them from a teacher's opinions, and helps to build self-confidence. This, in turn, can encourage them to experiment independently, both in school and at home. (He offers many examples of lively writing from even the younger students who were taught grammar rigorously.)

As I went through his argument, I realized that the benefits of learning grammar might not only help writers to express themselves with clarity, economy, and force (an axiom for me). It might also help them to face the inevitable mud-storm of rejection. All too often, rejection slips arrive without context, and writers can only guess what might have gone wrong. A deep awareness of grammar can eliminate one concern.

At the same time, it can prepare unconventional or uncommercial writers for the day when they might have to publish their own work. When they revise, all writers become editors, but when they publish, they have to become pitiless vultures with an eye for limping clauses. The more training in grammar they receive, the more skilfull they can be at scenting the reek of illness on a page.

The craft of writing can be hard enough to learn on its own. Without a firm awareness of the parts of speech, and of how they function together as grammar, writers take on a punishing task. That's not a fate I'd wish for anyone.

No comments: