Not as much rules about grammar now

A couple of excerpts from an essay J recently submitted for English 101:

At that time, people didn’t think that smoking was as bad, and therefore a lot of people have smoked and there weren’t as much rules about smoking in the building or restaurants or bar, and even hospitals.

Speaking of people drinking alcohol, there was some prohibition from 1920 to 1933, but it seemed like picture was taken after the prohibition ended, but before the prohibition ended, there were some organized crimes, like going to a secret bar and drink alcohol.

The professor loved it, particularly appreciating its “informal tone.” I loved it: J wrote it all by himself, without any help or edits from us. J’s grandparents loved it, too. None of us can stop marveling at how far he’s come, from barely putting two-three words together at age 6, to, after years of computerized grammar training, writing college-level English essays.

Right—college-level English essays. And there’s the rub.

“I trust the teacher will give him some feedback on grammar and punctuation,” my mother wondered.

Well, no.

In fact, at this point in my experience with the education world, I would have been surprised if there had been any such feedback. In the ed world, after all, it’s all about false choices and fake freedoms: open-ended communication as opposed to the confines of grammar; encouraging students to express themselves as opposed to stifling their creativity. No matter that, once in the real world, well-formed sentences suddenly matter: whether you’re writing a cover letter, a memo, or even a routine, job-related email message. Outside of English class, clumsy, error-filled sentences not only make you look careless and stupid, but also close off opportunities.

In fairness to the professor, I should note that (1) many of J’s sentences contained no errors; (2) the course is an online Blackboard course. (Normally online classes aren’t open to full-time undergrads: permission to take English online is the one accommodation that the disability office has made regarding J’s difficulty working in groups in English class—group work, naturally, having long been the norm in the brick-and-mortar versions of English 101).

This online English, as a Blackboard class, lacks functionality for marking up papers. Blackboard makes it convenient to submit papers, grades, and general comments, but (at least in the versions I’ve used) not to insert comments within student work. The best you can do is cut and paste entire passages into the “comments” window and then make edits (or cut and paste somewhere else, make edits, and then re-paste into comments). This procedure (though I’ve often resorted to it) is unwieldy. And it’s unwieldy not just for the person making the edits, but also for the student—who may or may not bother to do all the scrolling up and down that it takes to process all that’s been cut, pasted, and edited.

It wouldn’t be that hard for Blackboard developers to make inline edits as convenient as everything else is. But for this to happen, a lot more people would have to care.

6 thoughts on “Not as much rules about grammar now

  1. As an engineering professor who has to grade about 30 design reports (5-20 pages each) every two weeks, I sure wish the students had someone beating them up about grammar before me. I also wish that they had been taught topic sentences, flow between sentences, and other basics of composition. Capitalization, comma usage, and other punctuation details would also be nice. I find that grading badly written and badly copy-edited papers is much slower and more painful than grading decently written stuff, even if the content and length is comparable.

    I get ungrammatical stuff like what J wrote from students who don’t have the excuse of autism. It makes me despair for the future of the written language.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember grading engineering lab reports with a large number of ESL students. English and grammar were supposed to be 10% of the grade, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend an entire semester grading down the same foreign-born people by most of a letter grade just because they haven’t magically mastered English since the last report they submitted.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly! I keep forgetting to ask J about thisI Oddly, nowhere in his entire essay did he mention ceiling fans, so one can only wonder…

      Like

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