War Against Grammar

War Against Grammar

by David Mulroy
Trade Paperback, 144 pages
Current Retail Price: $27.50
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In the old days every education began with grammar. The funny thing is that the "old days" lasted from the 8th century B.C. to the 1960s A.D., and only in the last fifty years has grammar instruction been increasingly abandoned. Stanford Ph.D. and Classics professor at the University of Wisconsin David Mulroy traces the history of grammar instruction from ancient Greece to the present, showing how the shift occurred and why it's had such widespread influence and destructive effects.

While John Dewey's rejection of formalism in elementary school education laid the foundation, the most powerful blow to direct grammar education came in a 1963 report titled Research in Written Compositionby Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones and Lowell Schoer. Similar reports followed into the '90s, as education researchers proclaimed formal grammar instruction to be at best inconsequential, and at worst harmful.

Mulroy delineates errors made by these researchers that were codified in reports, and offers a fascinating history of grammar instruction from the time when Greek scholars developed objective rules for the regulation of language, through the Middle Ages and the privatization of education, to the post-Chomsky grammar education currently dominant in U. S. public education. He reveals why direct formal grammar instruction is imperative and why a more lenient approach will fail. He pays special attention to research indicating that students must receive grammar instruction from the beginning of their education, as older students unfamiliar with the concepts are nearly unable to pick them up later.

It isn't just so kids can learn a foreign language, either. While this may be somewhat surprising coming from a student and teacher of Classical languages, Mulroy points out that it is primarily our ownlanguage kids need to learn, and that only grammar instruction is able to present the information they need in the way they need it. Exercises like diagramming sentences and learning the parts of speech, long out of use, are essential skills needed to grasp why grammar is in place to begin with—to convey meaning via structured and codified language usage.

If that sounds a bit heady, The War Agains Grammarcan be at times. Each chapter ends in several pages of notes, and Mulroy approaches his topic from an academic rather than a popular level. Still, he is an excellent writer, and even at its most intellectual his book is eminently readable and even entertaining. Because his subject is so urgent—the rescue and reformation of American education—it is also fascinating as cultural documentation. Short and clear (even when the author employs professional jargon), this is a book every educator and parent should read before your children get too old to learn grammar properly.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Difficult reading
Summary: Charts the history of grammar, why public educators are against it, and why it is actually invaluable to a proper language arts education.

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