Meanwhile, the business world is howling that the high school graduates it hires can't compose a simple declarative sentence and that it is sick of spending its resources teaching employees the punctuation and mechanics they should have learned in grade school. Businesses are pressuring the schools in their states to do a better job.
These external pressures, more than complaints from Grandma that everyone learned to diagram sentences when she was in school, may be what motivates schools to reinforce grammar no matter how reluctant the student.
Interestingly, the equivalent of an exit poll given students who take the SAT asks if they had course work in English grammar in high school. Seventy-four percent of seniors in the class of 1999 said yes; 20 years ago, that number was almost 90 percent.
"Something is going on with English teaching," says Gams of the College Board. "These are college-bound kids. What about the other kids?"
It could be that Baltimore County's Paula Simon is correct: My son may have indeed heard the words "predicate" and "direct object" sometime in his academic life. They just didn't "stick."
"I've been teaching since 1973," says Simon, "And veteran teachers were saying then, `These kids don't know any grammar.' If I live to 2050, I expect teachers will still be saying it."
She defends the current thinking that grammar should not be taught in isolation by saying, "The only hope we have is showing kids that it has some effect on their speaking and writing."
That schoolkids don't find the mechanics of grammar and punctuation an entertaining learning experience is no surprise. But using the "teachable moments" presented by the mistakes in their essays and compositions isn't getting it done.
"Children should know the names for parts of speech by third grade," says Grammar Lady Bruder. "By sixth grade, they should know basic grammar. In junior high and high school, they should be using that grammar in increasingly complex ways."
The Grammar Lady has been answering grammar questions since 1988. She is discouraged about the state of grammar education, she says, because she is answering the same questions -- the difference between its and it's, for example.
But something more worries her.
"A woman called today and asked the difference between affect and effect." It's a common question, says the Grammar Lady.
"When I told her that one was a noun and the other a verb, there was this long pause.
"Then she asked me how to tell a noun from a verb."