Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Grammar and perfection in expression is the Key to Clarity and Clear Thinking

Today correctness in expression is out of fashion. Grammar is so passe. It is for idiots like me who do worry the nuances of expression and try for abstractness, as well as concreteness in meaning. Yes, you can start sentences with 'and' or 'to' or 'but', but first learn to recognize the parts of speech, their proper use, understand when and how tenses are used, how to construct a simple, compound and complex sentence that has meaning for an audience and most of all how to structure a short and extended piece of writing that has relevance.
I have great problems with primary school teachers who cannot seem to differentiate finer points of grammar and even the most basic grammatical errors are brushed over as 'unimportant'. It is the socialization that is important, I was told. 'Who cares whether your son can read and write or spell correctly. You are making too much of it.' I was told by the mother of two academically successful children. I looked at her in askance. We were sitting in a cafe having lunch. Our writing teacher was with us. She agreed with my friend. My partner is very ungrammatical, she confided in us. She is also a prize winning author. I was flabbergasted and reacted by being even more bloody minded.
   'Well, I do care.' I stated and ordered a coffee. Maybe that was the problem. I was too hyped up on coffee. I am on a diet of caffeine based drugs and have been for years. I confess I am confirmed addict. I drink at least five or six cups of tea a day and will have a coffee, whether I can afford it financially or physically or not. It keeps me sane and focussed. It keeps me from biting the idiots of the world I get frustrated with. Yes, you heard me. I want to bite people. I want to edge them into some semblance of commonsensical shock  by doing something extraordinary. I am hyper and hypo but I do love being who I am and NO I do not need anti depressants. I want to feel and I want to be human, not some zonked out, zoned out prescription druggie. The number of people who appear to be gobbling Prozac or Zoloft with their morning cereal seems to have grown. People need drugs to cope with the modern world and we are drugging the kids too. Any kid that is half normal has to be proscribed ritilin or some other stimulant to 'calm them down'. Growing up and becoming more civilised is about learning and growing and learning some more. Kids are naturally feisty or should be and that is why they need adults around. It is a two way street.
  'Don't make trouble for your son.' I was advised by the mother of two brilliant scholars graduates of Yavene College. Maybe their teachers cared for grammatical knowledge and expertise, despite their mother's casual brushing aside of the finer points of English language use. I care passionately about grammar and writing and the correctness of it all. Yes, I am a bloody minded old cow, but at least my students understood how to write with some clarity and they also understood sarcasm as an art form and dabbled in satire, after a year with me. It was an extra thrown into the course to deepen their repertoire and we also understood dramatic moments and poses. 
I must say I was disappointed in my writing teacher. Disappointment has become par for course lately. I was disappointed with the winner of The Age Short Story award winner this year. I read both the first place getter and the second place getter. The second story was the better read. 'Maggot' had too many maggoty bits in it and frankly it could have done with a bit of that white powder poison that we used to sprinkle on the bums of sheep that had been fly blown. I felt that it was still too maggoty and maybe I should have entered the competition. Got to be in it to win it though.
Anyway I wanted both of them to back me and say yes I should take this notebook with the argument of this teacher telling me that 'will not eat' is present simple tense when I said,  'No, my dear, 'will plus the base form of the verb is 'future simple' and she shoots back that I am mistaken and she is right that it is present simple. She of course is sure that she is right and I am wrong because she is an employed teacher and I am unemployed teacher. Yes, she is right that I am unemployed. However that still does not change the fact that my grammar is correct and I am the better writer and grammar teacher and I do understand nuances and meaning far better than she ever will.
I do not agree that we should leave it be. We need to model correct behaviour to students and correctness in what we are teaching. I am a bit like my computer.  It bugs me so, that I want to change the language spelling on my computer to UK spelling which I learnt as a child and grew up on. I hate American spellings where they use 'z' instead of 's' and leave out 'u's' in behaviour and favour and favourite. It stubbornly reverts and I just as stubbornly change it back.  I will live with red lines under my UK spelt words and YES dear computer, you can have spelt and spilt. It does not have to be spilled and spelled. Haven't the Americans heard of gerunds yet?
The beauty of language is in its perfection. The shaping of meaning through knowing how to use it correctly and to play with words and language. I do not want my son to miss out on that. Therefore he should learn correctly and then after that, he can play and spell greatly as g8li or later as l8r.
I know that for my writing teacher and the writing colleague who has a Masters in psychology, a Journalism degree and a teaching degree, I must be the most bloody minded and simplistic of individuals, but that is me. I am simply a teacher with 18 years teaching experience both here and overseas, an Arts Degree and a Diploma of Secondary Teaching and a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing and it counts for nothing. I cannot support myself or my son because I cannot get a job. I am too old, I was told. They want younger teachers. The old teachers are too inflexible.
Never mind that we still have to pay rent and bills. Never mind that we must earn a living. Never mind that we cannot make ends meet on a pension with a child. We must spend less.  Something is very wrong here. I did not believe in jinxes or the evil eye but I am beginning to do so lately. However, as the bills mount up yet again, I shall pray and do more job applications and hope and pray.
I do still believe in perfection and will work at the perfect story and the perfect poem and keep learning because one's mind should be active. Don't use it, you lose it.

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