Not only is it useful but fashionable as well. The Washington Post reports that commas have made a comeback! This is, without a doubt, a welcome fashion statement as well dressed paragraphs have been hard to find.
We now face a generation unschooled in the rudiments of grammar, much less the elements of style. Grammar drills have been supplanted by a more "holistic" approach to teaching English. In my honors American government class, an otherwise bright young man submitted an essay on the "Separation of Powers" with tortured syntax and spotty grammar. He explained that his high school teachers — and I'm embarrassed to say, his college English teacher —were more concerned with "context."
Some people, unsophisticated in the ways of modern education, might call that lazy teaching.
According to David Mulroy in "The War Against Grammar", we will be lucky if infinitives survive a militant campaign directed against their proper use. Among other consequences, Mulroy explains that those who are weak in grammar will struggle in learning modern foreign languages, let alone Latin or classical Greek. I am using a bit of my free time to guest teach Latin at my son's school and we are beginning to uncover weaknesses in the student's grammar formation. It's hard to go very far with the ablative case if mastering the idea of an indirect object is as foreign a concept as Caesar's subjugation of the Gauls.
Does Mulroy's martial language exaggerate, ad absurdum, the dangerous predicament in which we now find the proper use of pronouns? Hardly. As I have argued in my own recent work, John Dewey and the Decline of American Education, the war for language has a fierce ideological component. It is one of the theaters of operation in the culture wars.
This campaign against the proper placement of semicolons, is, more broadly, a revolt against tradition. It is only fully understood by reference to the rebellion led by education philosopher John Dewey. Grammar represents authority and Progressive education was (and still is) all about a revolt against authority, whether that be the authority of tradition, religion, a canon of learning — or the structure of language. The dismantling of grammar is part and parcel of the deconstruction of education, a process essential to Progressive nihilists if schools are to be remade into the vehicle of Dewey's political campaign.
This means, then, that grammar has been politicized. It is not just a matter of laziness, although there is laziness aplenty. This analysis, moreover, helps us to understand why many opponents of the proper use of language are so aggressive and energetic. They are on a mission.
Henry T. Edmondson III is Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.
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