Pedagogical malpractice

March 07, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

In advance of National Grammar Day, Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl!) reposted her "Top Ten Grammar Myths." One of the responses was from Renee Schuls-Jacobson, in an ill-informed comment* that contained a blunder in grammar. Ms. Schuls-Jacobson described herself as an English professor, and, indeed, she appears to teach composition at Monroe Community College in New York.

In 2009, appearing on Dan Rodricks's Midday show to talk about grammar, I got note from Margaret Benner of the writing support program at Towson University disputing my use of discretionary commas. It was so weirdly out there that the usually unflappable Jan freeman was moved to comment: "It is so very depressing to hear that a college writing teacher actually believes that is a 'rule.' I don't even think it's the preferable option; I would use the commas in both sample sentences, and I've spent my career as an editor and a student of English usage. Someone buy Ms. Benner a copy of MWDEU; maybe it's not too late for her."

I've also discovered how widespread, in the classroom and on the Web, is the teaching that a paragraph must have five sentences.

Each semester at least a few of my students come to the editing class burdened with baggage about stranded prepositions and split infinitives and a cloudy sense that the passive voice, whatever it might be, is a very wicked thing.

So I wonder, gentle readers, how much unsound instruction you have been subjected to.

If you are willing to essay the unwieldy comment function at this blog, I would be keenly interested in learning what you have been mistaught in English and writing classes. I'm trolling for malpractice. Will you help?

*Ms. Shuls-Jacobson insisted that irregardless is not a word, though it manifestly is, if not a good choice for formal written English. The "not a word" argument, also made by Clark Elder Morrow,** should always be considered a mark of language charlatanry.

**One of my most loyal readers, Alex McCrae, thinks I should not be smacking Mr. Morrow around so much, but the amount of respect owing to charlatans is minimal, and besides, he insulted lexicographers. I have had the good fortune to meet a number of linguists and lexicographers, once breaking bread with Ben Zimmer and Jesse Sheidlower, and know of a good many more through the Web. They are serious people, smart people, and their work merits respect rather than ignorant abuse.

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