Have you ever received a report or an email from a co-worker that is full of mistakes? Sometimes it seems like the person didn’t learn basic grammar in school, but is that even possible?
Unfortunately, it is entirely possible. I can’t speak for all school systems, but I do know that grammar instruction was removed from the curriculum of the northern Virginia school I attended as a child. Geography was too. The idea was that we’d learn those subjects through our other studies.
Did it work? I don’t think so. I went to public school for third and fourth grades, transferred to private school for fifth through eighth, and returned to the public school system for high school. In private school, I received a good amount of grammar instruction, learned the basics—the parts of speech, subject-verb agreement, what makes a complete sentence—and even diagrammed sentences.
When I returned to public school, it was clear to me that my peers hadn’t received the same training. In English class, many couldn’t identify subjects of sentences, differentiate between adjectives and adverbs, or recognize run-ons and fragments. Teachers were frustrated, but they didn’t offer “back to the basics” lessons in their classrooms. They did their best to correct errors in students’ papers, but they rarely took the time to teach the rules to the whole class.
When I went on to attend college at the University of Virginia, I found that there too many of my peers lacked an understanding of basic grammar rules, and my English professors certainly didn’t teach any.
What’s more, the students in my master’s teaching program weren’t any better off, and they were the people about to be certified to teach middle and high school English. I remember one of the girls in my program announcing that the summer before we began student teaching she was going to teach herself grammar: “I’ve always felt like I should know what an adjective is, so this summer I’m going to learn it—all of it.”
Surprised, I asked “You don’t know what an adjective is?” Her answer stuck with me: “No. I’ve never had to. I was never tested on it, and I read a lot, so I was a decent writer. I didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Maybe if I’d made mistakes a teacher might have felt the need to explain the parts of speech, but that just didn’t happen.”
When I started teaching, I discovered that things hadn’t changed. My ninth graders hadn’t received much grammar instruction in middle school. They were just like my own ninth grade peers. Even in my advanced classes, the majority of students couldn’t identify any parts of speech besides verbs. Beyond those, it was just a wild guessing game. I did my best, but most of my students left my classroom with a shaky foundation in grammar at best.
My point is that you may have some very bright people working at your organization who simply didn’t receive grammar instruction. For others, it’s a case of “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” and they’ve long forgotten grammar basics taught to them in school. Still, for others, it just doesn’t matter. Few careers require you to know the parts of a sentence, and people feel that as long as the message is understood, a misplaced comma isn’t a big deal. Here at Nitpickers’ Nook, we believe in following grammar basics, but ultimately, we believe that clarity and conciseness are the top priorities whenever you communicate.
So, while we would never suggest that you lower your standards, we hope you will show those people lacking grammar skills some empathy … and, of course, a good grammar guide.
How important do you think grammar is in today’s workplaces?
[Image Source: Grammar Time Blog]