1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Your opinions on English & lierature in our school system.

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Alesia, Jul 3, 2013.

    Just wondering what some of your thoughts are on the current methods of teaching grammar and writing in the public school system are. I just turned 27, so I've been out of high school for nearly ten years (skipped college and opened my own business) and the more I hang around these forums, the more I'm discovering that alot of the rules I was taught are absolute rubbish. One I asked about was starting a sentence with 'and' which seems perfectly acceptable to most here, yet in my classes you'd burn in hell if you started a sentence with a conjunction. Another one that was always touted as a huge no-no was long sentences like the ones found at the opening of Mantissa. There's more, but I'll save it for the sake of not ranting. That being said, do you think our schools are doing more harm than good where our youth and writing are concerned?
     
  2. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas Contributing Member

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    They teach formal language in schools, no matter what country and language. But that is rather idiotic, as in everyday use there is no formality.
    Language must convey thoughts and feelings, and else, as accurately and clearly as possible, and that requires, when looking at what is taught in schools, the omission of commas in certain places, the putting a word to a spot where, according to the rules, it shouldn't be.
    Formal language is pointless, completely impractical. Perhaps in some areas it does have use but even then, if it's too strict... who would care for reading something so boring?

    I remember similar from school, all kinds of rules, this may not be done, this does not go there, and do not do that. So much of it just false. It's like schools are tuned to keeping a language from developing in its natural course. And they as well, instead of teaching how to be more precise with language and more flowing, they teach how to not be that naturally but how to be that while conforming to rules. Simply stupid. If to view it that way they teach a person to be a slave, to be not thinking on their own, but instead thinking according to the rules. And if you try to do things on your own, your way, how it feels right, they punish you with a bad grade, because it doesn't accord the rules. And the rules themselves... not exactly based on reality, on how things really are (just look how things are really and what they teach, those two contradict each other).
    When writing, the language must flow and be whole, unless is needed otherwise. This means breaking these "rules".

    Also, in schools, they force students to read old books that are written in old times, and as such they are based on values that are outdated and do not belong to modern world. Some few ones might be in the right place but most are completely boring and anything aside a waste of time they do not provide. Reading books you do not want, and that are absolutely boring, push students away from wanting to read altogether, but to write well you must also read a lot, a lot of quality products to be precise, as most works are, honestly, such crap.

    Definitely more harm than good. After all, while I was in school I cared nothing for reading or writing, not because I didn't want to but because those teachings pushed me away from even finding out that it suits me. I've never been good in following rules anyway, because on my own I see much better and clearer, always have. I don't need rules, in fact all they do is keep me back.
     
  3. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Schools teach formal language, and academic language. They rarely, if EVER, teach dialogue. Fiction is frowned upon in many language arts programs as well (sadly).

    Our education system serves the interests of the community at large. If people were training to become professional writers, we'd need a better system. If people are training to write a report for their boss, then the system is working well. Which writing scenario seems more likely?
     
  4. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    The formal writing thing really crippled my fiction for a long time. When I go back and look at my earlier pieces they sound more like a formal research paper than a nicely flowing story.
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Moved: this thread is better here in the 'Book Discussion' area.
     
  6. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree with this. Maybe the use of formal language is unnecessary in your lifestyle, but many people do use it in their daily lives - I certainly do.
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're right, Alesia. It's really hard to dump that mode of writing; in fact the better you were at 'expository' writing, the more difficult it is to leave it behind once you leave school. It took me AGES, but now I think I would struggle to write a formal paper. Fortunately, as a 64-year-old retiree, I probably won't ever have to again, so it's all FUN from now on!

    However, the expository form does teach correct use of language AND how to organise your thoughts and present them in a coherent way.
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing is, you have to know what the rules are in order to know whether it's okay to break them. Most people aren't going to write fiction (although we may forget that if we hang around forums like this too much -- we can forget that not everyone is writing a story), and in most cases, to use your example, it isn't appropriate to begin a sentence with the word "and." (I saw that thread is here but I have not yet perused it.) It's different when you're writing a story, and particularly when you're writing dialogue or thoughts. But the majority of people don't do this very often.

    Where I think some schools could do better is in the area of the literature they assign students to read. It's been a while since I was in high school, so I don't really know what's going on these days -- I see in my local bookstore that they have a section for required summer reading, and I am just astonished at the choices -- they are SO much more interesting that what I had to read when I was a teen. I've even bought several books from the school reading section for my own reading. So the schools may very well be assigning better (more relevant, more contemporary, more thought-provoking, more interesting) books now. Also, there so many good YA books out now, and I think students can be more engaged by reading those and develop a love of reading. Often the opposite happens when they are forced to read books they really aren't ready for (we have previously discussed Gatsby, which I think is a great book, but simply over the heads of most 15 year olds), or just aren't relatable to them at all.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This resentment to formal, standard language is ridiculous. Informal language is fluid and subject to change from person to person, street to street, town to town. If teachers taught "informal English" there would be no consistency or coherence at all in any educational system. This is a juvenile resentment. As Liz has already said, you need to know the rules in order to know when to break them. Published authors don't break rules at random. They bend and break rules when it serves their purpose, when it has a reason.

    This happened to me with Steinbeck's works. I was made to read them when I had no appreciation for the written word and I associated his work with tedium for far too long. :/
     
  10. thatblowfish
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    thatblowfish New Member

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    I just finished school, and doing English Literature we were required to write creative pieces and essays, with the teachers making us practice everything from informal letter writing to play-writing to political speeches. It gave a nice range when learning to write, and helped out people like me that preferred projects with more freedom, rather than the option of just going through methodically ticking off assessment objectives. We also had whole classes about all the different ways you could open a book, how to write dialogue, how to choose what perspective to write from, how to structure a plot etc. etc. It was a big part of our higher level course.

    Also, on the point of being forced to read books and subsequently hating them, I found that I really enjoyed a lot of the books we did, and the ones I didn't weren't really my thing anyway. For instance, I did Measure for Measure, Paradise Lost, romantic poetry and assorted other 17th century revenge tragedies as part of my course over the last year, and I really enjoyed them, whereas when I was made to do Jane Eyre and more contemporary plays and poets, I didn't enjoy it. I doubt this has anything to do with being forced to read them, since that pretty much correlates with my taste outside of school. I'd say it was pretty well-rounded mind, doing a number of pretty fantastic works of literature, and some less so but easier.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    English classes teach students how to write essays (for the most part). They don't focus on creative writing. I don't see anything wrong with this. Formal writing is used more often than creative writing. Think of all the emails, reports, etc. that are written each day by people in all sorts of jobs. So it certainly makes sense to me that schools would focus on formal English. To answer your question, I think schools are doing more good than bad when it comes to writing.
     
  12. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hesitated to respond to this post for fear of sounding pompous and snobbish but I would have to disagree strongly with those who feel "formal language" education is pointless, crippling, and a waste of time. My first thought is, "Do you really want someone whose language and writing skills are limited to the patois of street vernacular and txt msgs as the leader of your country? Or even the supervisor of your office? And do you really want a legal system bogged down in illiterate legal documents rife with unintelligible phrasing and misspellings?

    Yes. There is a place for informal language: talking to your buds, writing a message to a friend. But, it all falls back to the axiom about knowing rules before breaking them. I was fortunate enough to have had an exemplary education from elementary school through university. I learned the right way to write and how to speak effectively in a business or formal environment. But I also never had a problem speaking in less formal atmospheres. I once read... just wish the heck I could remember who said it... that it is a sign of intelligence to be able to communicate with anyone.

    Communication, in this respect, is not merely talking TO someone but interacting WITH them. Being able to communicate your ideas and thoughts on a level that the person can understand, regardless of their own personal level of education or literacy. I have sat down among some of the most poorly educated of the nation and laughed and chattered away, exchanging thoughts, ideas, hopes for the future, learning about their lives and their world. And I have dined with politicians and multi-million dollar corporate bigwigs with equal aplomb.

    I think the biggest problem in the American school system (I cannot speak for the rest of the world) is the almost systemic lack of qualified teachers to actually teach the children. We have people with teaching degrees who have no idea how to teach, how to engage the malleable minds of their students and awaken their curiosity. They are merely baby sitters with no respect or appreciation of the burden entrusted to them. In my circle, we call it the dumbing down of America. Children are not taught many of the basic necessities of a good education. Entire school systems are removing standards from their curriculum. Don't teach cursive writing to children, they don't need it. (How they expect future law makers and politicians and presidents to sign laws, orders, and rules into being I have no clue!) Perhaps, because teachers are no longer paid a wage comparable to their value in the world, they have to a great extent eschewed integrity, reducing their own value to match the compensation they receive rather than elevating themselves above the insult and providing leverage for an argument in favor of a better wage. In essence, they have not only devalued themselves, but cheapened the education they impart to their students as well.

    This is not the way to teach children the literacy they so desperately need (and deserve) to be successful in their future lives. The cost of pursuing a higher education beyond high school being as costly as it is, it might be a good thing that fewer high school graduates possess the intellectual acumen to pursue to post-secondary education but it does not bode well for the future of the nation which is rapidly working its way to third world status on the shoulders of under-educated adults spawning under-educated offspring. School systems debate converting to a year-round school year. In the majority of cases, parents vote the concept down arguing that it would screw with family time or they wouldn't be able to plan vacations or it would mess up child care arrangements. All of those arguments are shallow, selfish, and wholly without merit of course. Furthermore, studies have shown that, when children are allowed to 'languish' for three months straight, unless their families involve them in some sort of mental stimulation (summer reading programs, etc.) as opposed to just letting them hang out, they not only get bored more readily, they lose much of what they learned the previous year so that, when school begins again in the fall, the teachers are obliged to spend the first three to six weeks of school recapping everything learned at the end of the previous year! (Talk about a waste of time and money!) I will not go into the rationale behind the formerly necessary summer school break vs year round schooling with several 3 and 4 week breaks throughout the year.

    As far as grammar and writing specifically?
    When my niece was in elementary school, she had a teacher that gave the third grade class an assignment to write a story. "Don't worry about spelling. It doesn't count," he told them. "Just spell it how you think it sounds like it's spelled." His assignment may well have stirred imagination but it handicapped many of those children for years after leaving them to struggle to learn the proper way to spell. To my way of thinking, what he did constituted intellectual abuse and certainly NOT good teaching. My niece, a straight A student, agonized for many years over a handful of words she first used in that class assignment. She is in college now and still a straight A student. She has overcome the handicap that teacher put on her but others, less intellectually adept, to this day struggle with spelling issues as well as other grammar problems. I can only imagine what other practices that teacher inflicted on that class.

    The American educational system is no longer concerned with ensuring our children have a decent education. It seems they are more concerned with a bottom line liberally sprinkled with dollar signs rather than student grades, numbers of graduates, numbers of college graduates...

    I have always said, when one student fails, it is the student's fault. When five, or six, or ten students struggle to make the grade, it is the teacher's fault. If teachers were paid based on the number of students in their class that achieve a certain level on achievement tests, I feel certain teachers would pay more attention to what and how they are teaching their classes.

    What do I think of the current method of teaching grammar and writing in the public school system? When high school graduates are only marginally literate, can neither spell nor formulate coherent sentences and haven't a clue as to the difference between an adverb and an adjective, a run-on sentence and a compound sentence and a sentence fragment ...? I think we first need to figure out how to START teaching grammar and writing before we address the issues of quality!

    Sorry. Didn't mean to soap box.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh. My. God. Yes, I've run into this attitude before. It's so damaging. It seems kindhearted, and does encourage creativity, but it also produces a 'next generation' of teachers who, themselves, have been poorly educated. How can they pass on what they never learned?

    The longer this goes on, the more incoherent and illiterate society is going to become. Pretty soon it will be hard to communicate anything other than just basic thoughts.

    I know people who got excellent grades in high school, but struggle to put together an accurate CV for employment applications. Passing all students through with good grades, just because they behave in class and turn in all the required assignments just isn't enough. Trouble is, with all the online diversions and electronic gadgetry available to today's students, I'm fearful this is a trend that will never be reversed.
     

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