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“Why grammar?  It stifles creativity!”

contributed by Marie Rackham
(used with permission)

Over the years that question has been hurled at me many times – sometimes gently, but more often vehemently.  My answer has always been the same “Because grammar is the technique of English”.

During the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, education, influenced by the social changes of the 60’s went through a period where the teaching of grammar was thought to be stifling to creativity.  Often I was made to feel like a dinosaur for teaching grammar.  Oddly enough, much of the criticism came from colleagues who held master’s degrees.  I remember saying on more than one occasion, “It is easy for you to say but you already have grammar skills or you wouldn’t have been able to write a master’s thesis.  Now, you want to deny these same skills to present and future students.  I am not against progress in education but, in the heat of the excitement of making changes, we must be very sure that what we consider to be progression is not regression, or even
suppression, in disguise.”  I never wavered; I continued to teach grammar.

In 1991, I was vindicated.  In the fall of that year, I decided that it was time to learn to use a computer.  The instructor suggested that I would learn more quickly if I worked on a continuous project.  I thought of my grammar course which was hand-written in a tattered, old duo-tang.  This became my computer project.  I spent every opportunity available to me in the computer room; early mornings, lunch times, after school, and in the evenings.  It was during the lunch time periods, particularly, that I noticed a pattern emerging.  The younger teachers on staff, one by one, would creep into the computer room and peer over my shoulder.  At first they were bemused by this “old dog learning a new trick;” but, then they became interested in my grammar project.  Without exception each would whisper into my ear, “When you are finished, may I have a copy?  I was never taught grammar and I am terrified to teach it.”  I promised to give them a copy and when they left I shook my head and though to myself, “Another product of the 70’s, and the 80’s, and the 90’s and…”

Learning is a slow process.  In this world of ‘instant everything’ the art of discipline is easily eroded.  With the flick of a switch, the push of a button, the turn of a dial, or the click of a mouse, we can be distracted immediately.  Mastering a technique is not instant.  It needs the discipline to focus, to organize, and to practise.  It also needs the encouragement of parents and teachers.

It is time to stop giving grammar a bad name and look at it for what it is: a technique.  It is a tool that can enhance creativity – not stifle it.  Grammar is not only a valuable tool for creative writing but also a wonderful aid for teaching.  When I was guiding students in creative writing classes, it was so helpful, from a teaching point of view, to be able to say, “Here you used an adjective where you should have used an adverb;” or, “at this point you used a principal verb without an auxiliary verb;” or, “if you place the subject at the end of this sentence it will improve the flow of your story.”  This is a much more satisfying learning situation than saying, “You have made some mistakes so I have inserted the corrections in red ink.”

I have now brought my little course to a new level with the production of The Basic Cozy Grammar Course which I was motivated to participate in for two reasons.  First, I am aware of the public’s concerns and impressions, whether rightly or wrongly, about the lack of language skills demonstrated by students today.  This totally self contained course as an audio/visual resource will enable students, teachers, parents, and homeschoolers to learn and/or teach the basics of grammar.  Second, I wanted to get out of the classroom – to present grammar in an everyday setting.  The coziness of a home, the familiarity of a garden, the fascination of a beach, combine to make a stimulating but non-threatening, setting for teaching a potentially dry and boring subject.

There are many comprehensive grammar books available in bookstores and on the Internet.  No matter what resources you prefer to use, never underestimate the importance of grammar.  It would be wise to note that if you can’t speak well and write well – your windows of opportunity are closed.

Marie Rackham
Retired Public School Teacher


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