September 8, 2009

"We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language..."

"... the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style."

A tragically misguided ideal from 1974.
Linguistic forms, it is said, are not God-given; they are the conventional products of social/cultural habit and therefore none of them is naturally superior or uniquely “correct.” It follows (according to this argument) that any claim of correctness is political, a matter of power not of right. “If we teach standardized, handbook grammar as if it is the only ‘correct’ form of grammar, we are teaching in cooperation with a discriminatory power system” (Patricia A. Dunn and Kenneth Lindblom, English Journal, January, 2003).
That's so appallingly well-meaning of them.

113 comments:

ironrailsironweights said...

This reminds me of the debate over the use of ebonics in schools.

Peter

traditionalguy said...

Saying that students have Rights not to learn how a civilized society interacts among its participants simply says that all education is worthless. Therefore drivers should have the right to drive on either side of the road and Traffic signals should use what ever color lights that drivers feel good about seeing. How terribly offensive to say red means one thing and grren means another...freedom requires eliminating rules.

shoutingthomas said...

Bad ideas never go away.

The just get recycled.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Don't teach poor children how the elite writes and talks, that way they can never compete for jobs with your own children.

AllenS said...

The only way to overcome this dilemma, is to have President Obama give another speech.

Florida said...

Ebonics. Heh.

I think it's good though.

Ebonics use is a real quick - and legal - way to identify people you don't want to hire.

rhhardin said...

If to wide reading were added daily dinner-table discussions of the sophistication and wit found in many 18th and 19th century novels, I might be more sanguine.

Who talks like that?

Maybe Buckley, when drunk.

TosaGuy said...

When will academics learn that people who make hiring decisions judge a person on how they speak and no amount of apologizing will change that.

Instead they probably blame our racist society for their educational disaster.

t-man said...

I'm still not sure whether Fish is slowly outing himself as having given up on modern liberalism (as applied in education, at least), or whether he is playing a game of trying to change the rules now that his side has won.

His turn of phrase "facile egalitarianism of soft multiculturalism" clearly echoes Bush's "soft bigotry of low expecations," and I found it very interesting.

WV: chiver - an uncontrollable spasm caused by eating a pungent herb

Dr. Cookie said...

It's not that the idea is kind of correct, but it has been wildly misused.

There are lots of forms of language. The business letter, the sonnet, graffiti, etc.

But students need to learn the forms that will allow them to function in the world. That means learning traditional language, business language, formal language, school language. They can talk however the choose at home or on the playground. Educators need to teach them language that they need to learn to be effective adults.

Dr. Cookie said...

PS. I love Stanley Fish.

Tex the Pontificator said...

"Correctness" in language is necessarily arbitrary. I am mostly a typically monolingual American, but I know enough Spanish to understand that it approaches some things differently from English. I don't see anything superior in either way of approaching things. A language just needs to pick a way and stick with it.

And there's the point: stick with it. The purpose of language is to communicate. What we most often intend to communicate is substantive content, but we also communicate things about ourselves by how we structure our language.

Failing to instruct children in standard language is to consign them to the margins of society. You may not like that, but so what? I don't like having to get up at 6:00 AM, but nothing will get better if I ignore the need to do so.

EDH said...

Sorry, the only thing I can remember from grammar lessons was the stern and elderly Miss Sharon's undulating, gelatinous tricept as she diagrammed sentences on the black board.

Aaron said...

of course "correct" english is arbitrary, but... try telling that to the CEO of a company.

Further, there is an inherent efficiency of all of us speaking reasonably close to the same. its like driving on a certain side of the road. Its not really important which side of the road we all drive on, so long as we all drive on one side of the road. but if people can just "choose their own path" then you get a clusterfrack.

rhhardin said...

The advantage of French over every other language is that the words occur in the same order as the ideas.

rhhardin said...

Arbitrary makes free.

Scott M said...

Inasmuch as you wouldn't want a morbidly obese person working at a fitness center or a GNC outlet, you wouldn't want someone that the widest swath of Americans can plainly understand working in your complaint phone center, but that's exactly what my wife, the manager of the latter, has to deal with. Not only do call centers have relatively low-paying jobs and high turnover (which, let's be honest, just attracts the best sort of employees, lol), she has to deal with two specific people with...um...dialect problems.

Suprise, surprise, one is black (inner city ebonics) and the other is white (rural slang twang).

It really doesn't matter what your skin color is. If you cannot communicate effectively, you've got no place in a call center. This has nothing to do with accent and everything to do with being able to string together an intelligent sentence.

There may not be a "right" way to talk, but there's certainly a minimum we should expect from adults. To say otherwise is to elevate the less-than-mediocre among us.

Ern said...

I'm going to expand just a bit on what a few other commenters have said: If I harbored an animus against blacks and Hispanics, I would insist that they not learn proper English, and I'd try to make it impossible for them to learn English at all. I'm sure that there are a lot more books available in English on, say, programming in Java, than there are available in Spanish, and I'd bet that there aren't any books on programming in Java that are written in ebonics.

DaveW said...

Who talks like that?

Yoda.

Scott M said...

Should have read...

you wouldn't want someone that the widest swath of Americans can't plainly understand working in your complaint phone center.

hawkeyedjb said...

"The advantage of French over every other language is that the words occur in the same order as the ideas."

Depends whether you're talking about a windmill red (le Moulin rouge) or a big orange (la grande Orange).

wv: spenier - one who spens, in French

Bissage said...

The most valuable lessons of grammar teach humility.

Balfegor said...

The advantage of French over every other language is that the words occur in the same order as the ideas.

But the French, you know, they cannot count.

Fred4Pres said...

English may not be the best language, but it is one of the most flexible. And that has contributed to the success of the English speaking world. I do not want to get all French about language, that is a big mistake. But at the same time, learing to speak well is important in getting ahead in the world. The worse thing you can do to a young person is tell them it is alright to speak poorly. 9 times out of 10, you have just severely limited their options in life.

ironrailsironweights said...

With respect to call centers, there's the issue of how so many of them have been outsourced to foreign countries with non-native English speakers.

Peter

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I put a simple sentence on the table, something like “John hit the ball” or “Jane likes cake.” I spend an entire week on sentences like these (which are easily comprehended by students of any background),

Holy Crap!!! This is what I learned in second grade. They now have to teach this in college??

We are so fucking doomed as a nation.

Big Mike said...

Jason (the commentator) and Aaron have the right of this argument. There is one area where the country club conservative and the limousine liberal absolutely see eye to eye, and that is the need to protect their offspring from competition from smart and hard-working strivers out of the middle class. So, don't teach the children of the middle class how to speak and write the way a well-educated person does, but do institute a quota system to lock them out of the best universities in favor of unprepared minorities. That goes double or triple for Asian-Americans. (Cut down on the competition from the minorities by pushing them into "fields" ending in the word "studies.")

Is there anything I've left out?

Quayle said...

If you want to work for somebody, you better know and use the language of people that are hiring - usually the people with money.

If you don't want ot work for somebody, and want to work for yourself, then you better know and learn the language of your customers - and hope they have money.

bearbee said...

Isn't the primary reason for proper grammar to minimize misunderstandings and to correctly decipher thoughts and meanings of others in common society?

Amen to use of social-cultural linguistic preferences/peculiarities with family, friends, community, in fiction and the arts.

rdkraus said...

DBQ

I learned that in second grade too. The problem came later. Somewhere in (maybe) junior high they stopped teaching writing. We had English, but no one made us write AND really corrected and marked up our papers.

My first college course, English, was a revelation. I got lucky. I had a Prof who made us write every week; then he marked up our papers. It was brutal. I thought I might fail. Ended up with a B. And learned to write. At least a little (I do like to take a lot of liberties now, but wtf, it's the internet).

I went to college in the 70's.

former law student said...

""We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language...""

Prof. Fish quite rightly points out that teaching standard English grammar adds to such students skills, just as learning a foreign language does.

We are so fucking doomed as a nation.

Indeed, if learning formal English is put off till the student attends university. But, using the principles of Obama's health care reform plan, public schools would be made to follow the best practices, i.e. the ones used by Catholic schools.

This reminds me of the debate over the use of ebonics in schools.

Black English is a creole populated almost completely with English words, but possessing its own grammar. Teaching such kids is more like teaching English as a second language, than it is correcting bad usage, because Black English speakers use its grammar consistently.

John Burgess said...

Big Mike: Why attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity?

These are all well-meaning individuals. I sincerely doubt that keeping their kids free from competition is at the root of their misadventures in public policy.

They are do-gooders who don't understand--or care about--the ramifications of what they propose.

And on that, my comment and WV waxes

Lem said...

"We affirm the students’ right to their own patterns and varieties of language..."
"... the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style."


Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

wv - jailunal = The accommodation of the delusional by larger and larger numbers of people.

Joan said...

I enjoyed Fish's column, which brought back memories of a half-semester high school course called Grammar, Logic, Usage and Expression. Dear old GLUE! The class was taught by Mr. McKee, the only person I've ever known who had half-glasses he kept perched at the end of his nose; somehow he managed to avoid looking ridiculous. He taught us all how to write. I've often thought in the intervening years I should send him an annual "thank you" gift.

Reading the comments over at the NYT site, I began to suspect I had wandered into one of those stealth performance art projects. Many of them reinforced Fish's thesis that the current state of writing instruction leaves much to be desired.

Zach said...

The "right to [one's] own patterns and varieties of language" is so passive and vague that it doesn't make much sense to think about it in terms of rights -- at least, not until you learn the language properly and make your own stylistic choices.

Can an elementary school kid really make a good choice about something like the need for grammar? By respecting his "rights," that decision gets made by default.

montana urban legend said...

Oh, the humanity of it!

French, Spanish and Italian are just such illegitimate forms of Latin!

Which reminds me...

Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
þæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. Þæt wæs god cyning!

Take that, you uncivilized primitives!

former law student said...

We had English, but no one made us write AND really corrected and marked up our papers.

One thing college freshman comp teachers do to leverage their time is "peer review," the practice of having other students review and mark up early drafts. Though it may sound like the blind leading the blind, it does lead to improved writing, I am told.

Lem said...

SPOIL ALERT

Lars Lindstrom: You don't care.

Karin: We don't care? We do care!

Lars Lindstrom: No you don't.

Karin: That is just not true! God! Every person in this town bends over backward to make Bianca feel at home. Why do you think she has so many places to go and so much to do? Huh? Huh? Because of you! Because - all these people - love you! We push her wheelchair. We drive her to work. We drive her home. We wash her. We dress her. We get her up, and put her to bed. We carry her. And she is not petite, Lars. Bianca is a big, big girl! None of this is easy - for any of us - but we do it... Oh! We do it for you! So don't you dare tell me how we don't care.

BTW, Bianca was a life size rubber doll.

Rockport Conservative said...

It pains me to think of how many young people, well older people too, have been turned away from a job because of inappropriate language and dress. I spent ten years in Louisiana working as a volunteer at a literacy for adults agency. We had all colors and races of students. They didn't learn to read above the 3rd grade level and they had not learned to speak above that level. Most had gone to the 10th grade at least, and could then legally drop out. Their years were wasted because phonics was not taught. If phonics had been taught most of them would have learned to read and to speak well. They surely would have had a much better outlook on life and of themselves.

Shanna said...

One thing college freshman comp teachers do to leverage their time is "peer review," the practice of having other students review and mark up early drafts.

I comped out of freshman comp, but in my lit class we did this. I do think it’s useful to have another student review your writing. I think having anyone review your writing is useful, if only for making sure that you are communicating your ideas with clarity.

Shanna said...

Their years were wasted because phonics was not taught. If phonics had been taught most of them would have learned to read and to speak well.

In high school, I did some mentoring with the boys and girls club. I had the hardest time with my little girl when we were reading together because she had never been taught phonics, so I would try to get her to “sound things out” and she had no clue how to do that. It was frustrating.

former law student said...

Can an elementary school kid really make a good choice about something like the need for grammar?

Kids arrive at school speaking and thinking much as their peers do. They are able to communicate with the people around them. The danger in denying them the right to speak as they always have is that the elementary school kid may decide to give up trying to communicate at all, because he receives a barrage of corrections every time he opens his mouth or writes a paragraph.

Consider foreign language learning. The emphasis in academia is "getting it right," while most other situations emphasize communication. The 2000 Presidential campaign provided a good example of the different outcomes, when the candidates spoke in Spanish: Gore was hesitant, halting, as if he expected his teacher to whack him with a ruler if he gave a noun the wrong gender. Bush was fluid, with a good accent; even if he made a few errors he was confident of being understood.

hawkeyedjb said...

"But the French, you know, they cannot count."

They can count, the French, they are just very economical with their numbers. No need for numbers beyond the 60s! We'll have 60s-and-ten, then 4-twenties, then 4-twenties-and-ten, and we'll drive the Japanese crazy.

wv: vorgist - one who operates a vorg.

chickenlittle said...

"An applicant is entitled to be his or her own lexicographer and may rebut the presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning by clearly setting forth a definition of the term that is different from its ordinary and customary meaning(s). See In re Paulsen, 30 F.3d 1475, 1480, 31 USPQ2d 1671, 1674 (Fed. Cir. 1994)"

Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, 2111.01 (IV)

Chip Ahoy said...

Speaking of adding to dinner-table discussions …

True story: *points to nothing in particular, for emphasis*

I suppose our dinners were formal in that we all assembled at a specific time and we had to clean ourselves up. We also had to behave or we'd be on the receiving end of the cold stare of death from my father's steel-blue eyes that could positively pin you to the back of your chair.

Except for our youngest brother who could say or do nothing that wasn't adorable.

One meal we were served bratwurst with sauerkraut. I hated that stuff because it has the word "sour" in it.

During a lull in conversation James, the youngest, exaggerated an oncoming sneeze to ensure he would have the attention of the whole table.

"ah, ah Ah, AH AH … CHOOO! While he simultaneously lifted his hand his nose.

We were all horrified. It took us a moment to realize he had draped strands of sauerkraut over his hand to set up the joke.

Always so cute. He alone could play with his food.

Dr. Cookie said...

Former law student: What Catholic School best practices should public schools be following? How do you know they are best practices?

Pogo said...

Neil Postman cited Bertand Russell who said, "Language serves not only to express thought but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it ."

Postman: "What this means is that language education is almost entirely irrelevant when conducted at the level of vocabulary lists, spelling tests, and grammar exercises. Languaging, knowing, and living are intertwined, and it is never easy to know in what ways, if any,they may be distinguished from one another.

A young man whose range of response to that which displeases him is located somewhere between the word "bullshit" and some other unoriginal obscenity does not simply have a vocabulary deficiency. He has a perception deficiency . He cannot distinguish among degrees or kinds of displeasure. The world may be said to be a blur to him, and it is not sufficient to provide him with a vocabulary list. He must somehow have his consciousness raised . He must be persuaded that he is missing something, that there is value, for him, in seeing what is now hidden from his view. Having achieved some sense of what there is to see, he will then require the words, perhaps demand the words, with which to understand and express a wider field of vision. But at the same time, words may themselves be the agent through which his consciousness is raised . If they appear on a vocabulary list, they surely will not. But if they appear in a context which is filled with importance, if not urgency, they may arouse the sense of curiosity or wonder or need from whichdurable and profound learning originates.

Words increase our understanding, and our understanding increases our words.

...For a young man whose emotions are aroused in entirely predictable ways by such words as "democracy" or "racist" or "communism" or "Burger King" may in fact be said to have a vocabulary problem, although not of the sort that education technocrats acknowledge. His "vocabulary problem" is that he is living under the direction of someone else's commands. The words are not fully his . He conducts himself at the sufferance of another.
"

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
save_the_rustbelt said...

What it be sista!?

(Bad imitation of cool by an old white guy.)

What was done to the math curriculum is much worse than what was done to the English language.

save_the_rustbelt said...

I want to a small low-budget rural school (the district could not afford kindergarten).

We were drilled in phonics and arithmetic our first three years.

Results - 100% reading and math literacy, including the guys who majored in high school "shop."

Of course, we did not have cable tv or video games.

bagoh20 said...

All education is "teaching in cooperation with a discriminatory power system". That's why I suggest we replace faculty with whoever happens to show up in the teacher's lounge. Then we can replace costly educators with people willing to teach just for that free coffee.

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

Poor speech and bad writing are acquired disabilities that imprison a man better than any chains, because the chafing and pain and futures lost are blamed on everything but its cause, and few attempt escape from fetters unseen.

Shanna said...

What it be sista!?

My brother heard somebody say this once and it's my favorite completely wrong statement ever: "Hey girl, Who your name is?"

Balfegor said...

Re: "An applicant is entitled to be his or her own lexicographer and may rebut the presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning by clearly setting forth a definition of the term that is different from its ordinary and customary meaning(s). See In re Paulsen, 30 F.3d 1475, 1480, 31 USPQ2d 1671, 1674 (Fed. Cir. 1994)"

We defer to no less an authority than Humpty Dumpty himself:

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't – till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all.
"

former law student said...

How do you know they are best practices?

By their fruits, ye shall know them. But I don't know personally: Prof. Fish told us so:

By all the evidence, high schools and middle schools are not teaching writing skills in an effective way, if they are teaching them at all. The exception seems to be Catholic schools. More than a few commentators remembered with a mixture of fondness and pain the instruction they received at the hands of severe nuns. And I have found that those students in my classes who do have a grasp of the craft of writing are graduates of parochial schools.

Michael Hasenstab said...

I saw a hand-lettered sign along a road construction project in Philadelphia a few years ago.

In black letters on an orange sign it read:

Man's Be Working

And that's the troof.

traditionalguy said...

Sounds to me like another round of inter-generational conflict. This 1972 rejection of grammar rules was a cry for freedom from all hated traditions handed down with the older generation's permissiveness towards Racism and McCarthyism and sexual morality laws. The difference today is in the Internet having educated people beyond what we dreamed possible. Now young people feel a need to overcome authority that cannot find easy focus on one or two nuisance enemies. They now demand that ALL things be changed to benefit the computer savy younger generation, especially the looming payments of money for the benefit those over 65.

G Joubert said...

I teach undergrad philosophy classes, one of which is an ethics course required for all incoming freshmen in their first term. One of the first things I tell these brand new college students is in the long run the actual value of a college education is not in learning details or minutiae in this discipline or that, but learning and acquiring skills in three areas:

1. Research. You will never know all the answers, nor even most of them, but you will learn to know where to go look to find them, and to learn what others have said on the subject.

2. Thinking, analyzing and reasoning. Discerning and evaluating. Crystallize it all down and state the real issue. Be able to put aside your own biases and to objectively state all sides.

3. Communication skills. Learning to write competently and coherently. Learning how to orally present yourself and to persuasively state your case. I also tell them that public speaking skills are invaluable but woefully undertaught. They should seek out opportunities to practice public speaking skills, and to also consider voice lessons/coaching to polish tone and modulation.

Master these and your education has served you well.

Balfegor said...

The issue is whether students accorded this right will prosper in a society where norms of speech and writing are enforced not by law but by institutional decorums. If you’re about to be fired because your memos reflect your “own identity and style,” citing the CCC resolution is not going to do you any good.

I think Fish is missing an important point here -- that while law may not proscribe nonstandard dialects, those who grow up knowing only non-English languages, or nonstandard or casual dialects of English, operate at a massive disadvantage with respect to the law. All the forms in the world won't help you when the judge is talking at you in educated English, and the cases the attorneys cite are all in English, and the regulations and the statutes and Constitution are all written in a kind of formal English. The average English speaker may find the language of the law confusing, but he can at least follow the thread, without an attorney or other intermediary to hold his hand -- he enjoys a measure of independence and autonomy. But to be left unfamiliar with formal English is really a kind of disenfranchisement, with respect to legal process. Such people must become utterly dependent on others for their basic access to legal process and protections. Or -- as often seems to be the case -- forgo those protections completely.

This is, perhaps, subsumed within his musings on striking blows to power structures etc. etc. etc. But it's a more prosaic point, and -- I think -- much more crucial. You don't just need a command of standard, formal English to strike a blow to the power structure. You need it to enjoy your full rights as a citizen. English is encoded into the fabric of American law, and it's not really possible to escape that.

Balfegor said...

English is encoded into the fabric of American law, and it's not really possible to escape that.

If I were a better writer of purple prose, I would probably have written "English is woven into the tapestry of American law." Or something to that effect. Humbug.

Zach said...

One of the first things I tell these brand new college students is in the long run the actual value of a college education is not in learning details or minutiae in this discipline or that, but learning and acquiring skills in three areas:

I see where you're coming from, and agree to some extent, but I wonder if contemporary education doesn't err on the side of abstract analysis as opposed to knowledge.

When we teach physics, we try to accentuate the opposite: that you could take this stuff into your back yard and explain things.

It's the same thing Fish is talking about in another form, really: most students can't take intro physics into their back yard and explain things, because they haven't internalized the algebra. Like grammar, algebra is purely formal and has no particular meaning. But you have to know that stuff cold if you want to bridge the gap to the real world.

Big Mike said...

@John Burgess, do you really think everybody involved with pushing this claptrap is merely a well-meaning fool?

@Zach, algebra isn't good enough. You can't really grasp what's going on in physics without calculus.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Big Mike, for a decent survey course in physics, which is all non-science majors need (and some science majors, such as biology,) calculus really isn't necessary. But algebra is.

Zach said...

@Zach, algebra isn't good enough. You can't really grasp what's going on in physics without calculus.

Well, the same principles apply to calculus as algebra, but the quality of prior education is generally better. Intro calc-based physics barely requires any calculus, though: you don't really need calculus until you hit Electricity & Magnetism.

chickenlittle said...

Intro calc-based physics barely requires any calculus, though: you don't really need calculus until you hit Electricity & Magnetism.

Isaac Newton just rolled in his grave.

chickenlittle said...

I'm guessing you took "Physics for Poets" Zach?

chickenlittle said...

Physics without calculus is like reading Nietzsche in English. Sure, you can get a flavor, but you must crave the real thing!

David said...

Obama's Epistle to the Schoolchildren was in standard english. He be right 'bout dat.

Zach said...

I'm guessing you took "Physics for Poets" Zach?

I taught Physics for Poets.

Penny said...

One excellent educator can change a student's life forever.

Unfortunately, and over time, one negative student has changed the behavior of another, and another, until these kids have changed the teachers' lives forever.

The answer to this is always the same. MORE MONEY! And so good money has followed bad.

If public schools are not able to creatively resolve their problems, then let someone else try.

WE NEED MORE COMPETITION!

Start handing out vouchers and see how many schools continue to "affirm the students' right to their own patterns."

Shanna said...

Physics without calculus is like reading Nietzsche in English. Sure, you can get a flavor, but you must crave the real thing!

I know they needed Calculus for my high school physics (I wasn’t in physics, but I was in Calculus, and the physics folks kept coming in asking the calc teacher for help)

WV: Parle. Speak!

chickenlittle said...

I taught Physics for Poets

@Zach: food for thought: link. :)

I like his rhetorical question: why no "Poetry for Physicists" courses?

Balfegor said...

I like his rhetorical question: why no "Poetry for Physicists" courses?

My alma mater (an engineering school) had pretty much that -- we had mandatory composition/humanities courses our first year (absolutely mandatory, could not place out of them). We had a choice of topics, but I think at least one of them was pretty much "poetry for hard science nerds."

Beth said...

And if students infected with the facile egalitarianism of soft multiculturalism declare, “I have a right to my own language,” reply, “Yes , you do, and I am not here to take that language from you; I’m here to teach you another one.”

Good answer - it's called code switching, and pretending it's not absolutely necessary to success of any kind is ludicrous.

Fish's formal attention to sentence construction is useful, but he doesn't address what level of comp students he's teaching: I pay that kind of attention to the sentence level in remedial courses and a bit less in the first of two for-credit semesters. By the time the advanced semester rolls around, I have to assume some competency in sentence-level work so we can focus on building whole essays out of organized, developed and related paragraphs. But I still find myself working one-on-one to solve sentence-level issues, and that's just part of the job. In a classroom of 20 students, there is a spectrum of abilities and I have to shepherd most of them toward the main goals of the course, offering extra attention to those at both ends of the spectrum. Perhaps even a matrix is a better image: very smart writers taking on complex ideas often trip over complex sentences and have to find their way through fragments and comma splices. And some of those private school graduates with excellent sentence skills can't develop a mature voice or break out of the formulaic 5-paragraph approach, no matter the topic.

Peer review can be a way to shrug off my responsibility, and I resist that. It is useful for giving students a broader sense of audience, and for prodding them to see themselves as writing and communicating in a larger context - as we do here, in our comments. I don't leave any paper's outcome to peer review; I review and mark up all drafts, and meet with students as they are in the writing process as well.

Synova said...

This makes sense, actually.

"An applicant is entitled to be his or her own lexicographer and may rebut the presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning by clearly setting forth a definition of the term that is different from its ordinary and customary meaning(s)."

Because a patent is supposed to be something *new* there may not be language to describe it, so the patent applicant is entitled to create jargon and use terms in new ways just so long as the new usage is clearly defined.

Beth said...

And reading this thread has brought me to the realization that I have 40 drafts to read and mark up before Friday. Away I go.

chickenlittle said...

.., but I think at least one of them was pretty much "poetry for hard science nerds.

OK, but did they use different texts or just ask easier questions, like the $25 questions on Cash Cab rather than the $100 dollar ones?

Pogo said...

In college I took a sculpting course and the professor went around the room and asked us to tell the class our name and major.

Fine Arts
Fine Arts
Fine Arts
Fine Arts
Fine Arts
Fine Arts
Me: Chemistry

Yes, I was the turd in the punchbowl.

Prof "This is not an easy A, Mr. Pogo. Is that understood?

Me: Abundantly clear, sir.

Nevertheless, it turned out pretty well. Great fun. The nudity was disquieting. And that was just the students.
I keed, I keed.

Balfegor said...

OK, but did they use different texts or just ask easier questions, like the $25 questions on Cash Cab rather than the $100 dollar ones?

I think they assumed a lower level of familiarity with (and interest in) the subject matter -- they were more oriented towards the basics. After all, the school didn't offer these sorts of courses because it thought the subject matter was particularly important -- the point of the course requirement was that students learn to write English prose, not just equations.

We had a PE requirement too, in recognition of the fact that large numbers of us would otherwise have spent all our time in front of computer monitors in darkened rooms.

chickenlittle said...

@Pogo: I took Italian in college as a chemistry major (before switching to German). The entire rest of the class were female music majors. Woo hoo!

wv: halint (chlorox dust bunny)

ricpic said...

Pogo, the young man who never gets beyond the use of the word bullshit to express his displeasure or disagreement doesn't have it in him to do so. He is common, vulgar, and will never be anything other than common, vulgar. He is not disadvantaged. He is not deprived. How do I know? Because those who do have it in them find the vocabulary, read the books, educate themselves. It's all out there for those who have the hunger. Force feeding those who don't is a colossal waste.

Synova said...

The ability to diagram a sentence is invaluable and something I've used constantly as an adult. I can't even do it beyond a middling sentence complexity and I usually just do it in my head, but I *do* use this tool.

What we didn't go into in English to speak of was the technical terms of language which means my most common reaction is "the transi-wha-zit?"

But we did diagram sentences in Jr. High English, and for that I'm grateful.

Sr. High English was "literature" and I was forced to read Truman Capote. I think that my teacher was a *good* teacher, and she had replaced a truly pathetic tenured excuse for a teacher... but we never so much as mentioned parts of speech and I can't help but think that it would have been good to spend a day or two on the technical aspects of language at some point in those three years.

Synova said...

"I know they needed Calculus for my high school physics (I wasn’t in physics, but I was in Calculus, and the physics folks kept coming in asking the calc teacher for help)"

One of my worst (non-social) experiences in high school was taking Physics from our Science teacher who was a Biology fellow at heart and had no math to speak of. He did alright teaching Chemistry just because he'd memorized how to do the equations.

Small school and Physics was only offered every other year. I took it as a Junior. The first week of my Trig class my Senior year the Math teacher walked up to the board, said "You all know this," and sketched out the Pythagorean theorem. I took one look at it and started bawling uncontrollably and only managed to babble incoherently about vectors when the teacher asked me what was wrong.

The next year when Physics was offered again they had the Math teacher teach it.

Pogo said...

@ricpic

I think that's what Postman was saying, really. He is not a bleeding heart, but uses liberal's language in a sly way, to point out painfully bad outcomes from the general decline in education standards.

And his ire includes the barbarian's parents as well, who are similarly enslaved by ignorance.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Pogo said...

Yes, I was the turd in the punchbowl.

Some things never change.


I keed, I keed.

Hey said...

Why no Poetry for physicists? Because Poetry for Poets is so watered down to accommodate the ridiculously low capabilities of liberal arts majors that regular classes are far below the abilities of the physicists (and engineers, etc).

The liberal arts students always hated the engineering and science majors taking their classes as distribution requirements. We ruined the curve and monopolized the As. Econ classes were great because the Prof would joke with the engineering majors about how incompetent the econ majors were. Someone would always ask questions about shifting the curves around, which had just used 10 minutes of class time to explain. Prof would say that he'd done it for the benefit of the econ majors who hadn't taken stats or calculus, but since you're an engineer just treat it like a physics problem and ignore all of the laborious methods to solve without calculus.

Engineers loved that Prof while the Econ majors resented him, to everyone's complete shock!

The ultimate explanation of no poetry for physicists - basically every engineering or science major had to help their girlfriend (or occasionally boyfriend) with their arts homework. I rewrote every paper my girlfriends ever did, helping with style and substance. We never got help going the other way though - liberal arts majors are very poor at helping with thermodynamics, combinatorics, supply chain management, topology, programming...

Pogo said...

At least I found that out early.

It takes a lot of practice to minimize one's punchbowl-turdiness.

Zach said...

@Zach: food for thought: link. :)

Mr. Morley is describing a different kind of "Physics for Poets" course. The one I taught was "Physics in Everyday Life" and explained things like microwaves and electricity.

I disagree with Mr. Morley about the importance of math, particularly for non-majors. As I was saying in an earlier post, the important part of physics is the content -- the description of the physical world.

Math is a specialized apparatus for solving physical problems. It can describe the physical world, but it doesn't have to. Similarly, you can describe the world with math, without math, or using specialized kinds of math. You can say true and valuable things using algebra as well as calculus -- you just can't say as many things, and some things will stay obscure which are easier to understand if you do know calculus.

Big Mike said...

@Zach, but you can't really describe gravity much beyond "it makes things fall towards the center of the earth" without using differential calculus.

Big Mike said...

@Pogo, I know the feeling. I had to go all the way to the Dean of Arts and Sciences (a few more decades ago than I care to think about) to get permission to take creative playwrighting as an engineering major (my transfer out of engineering and into math happened later). His reaction was on the order of, "you've got to be kidding me," but as soon as the professor assured him that we had talked and I had the professor's agreement, the Dean was 100% on board.

Of course I was the only one who wrote a full-length play and I did ace the class.

Was it supposed to be hard?

Pogo said...

"you can't really describe gravity much ...without using differential calculus."

That's what poets are for.

Pogo said...

"Was it supposed to be hard?"

Ha! It happened again when I took a drawing class (I can draw, a little). Said the prof: I cannot stop you from taking this class, but I am watching you, like he was De Niro as the ex-CIA dad in 'Meet the Parents ' or something.

Big Mike said...

Math is a specialized apparatus for solving physical problems.

Not necessarily. Some forms of math are useful for solving physical problems, others can be applied in different areas (e.g., first order predicate calculus underlays the SQL standard database language) and a few have yet to be applied to anything other than finding new theorems and new sources of beauty.

daubiere said...

colorless green ideas sleep furiously

Beth said...

Because I am a lowly instructor, I teach a lot of survey lit and poetry courses for non-majors. I very much like having engineering, science, math and computer science students in those courses, particularly in intro to poetry. They are generally very good writers - I worked for a Chem prof and an Engineering prof as a grad student, editing and laying out their publications, so I know those disciplines foster precise writing - and they get into the structural forms. It's fun teaching meter and forms to people who groove on formulas and algorithms.

Synova said...

Ha! My husband-to-be was one of those dreaded BS students who took the "easy" art class to be with his girl friend.

And the thing is that it actually would have been an "easy" grade for a required elective except when the semester gets tough and something has to go, it's most likely going to be the art elective and all the time it would take to learn to throw a clay bowl properly.

And that's too bad, really.

He dropped and I eventually poured glaze over his "sculptures" and fired them and brought them home. We used one for a door stop for years and my sister still has another as a sort of tiki figure in her 50 gal fish tank.

His stuff persists and mine is long gone. ;-)

dick said...

I was lucky when it came to diagramming and parts of speech. In grade school from 4th grad on the diagramming of sentences and the different parts of speech were emphasized heavily. When I took Latin it really came in handy as I was way ahead of the game when it came to tense and voice. We had moved to another town and that town did nothing to prepare the students for sentence structure until the senior year. Big mistake.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

It all dovetails together

Obama's speech, completely dumbing down our schools and the results of a free form English education.

Bwaahahahaha

class-factotum said...

In my business school microeconomics class, the prof spent ten minutes explaining how to optimize a function, but he used algebra. I (an English major) leaned over to the engineer next to me and whispered, "Why doesn't he just say, 'Take the derivative?'"

The prof overhead me and asked if I wanted to share something with the class. I repeated my statement and the prof answered, "Because if I say that, half the class will pass out."

I muttered, "You're supposed to have a year of calculus as an entrance requirement for this program."

Methadras said...

Zach said...

Math is a specialized apparatus for solving physical problems. It can describe the physical world, but it doesn't have to. Similarly, you can describe the world with math, without math, or using specialized kinds of math. You can say true and valuable things using algebra as well as calculus -- you just can't say as many things, and some things will stay obscure which are easier to understand if you do know calculus.


Math is a universal language that doesn't have any dialectic flavors. You can describe any physical phenomena as an abstract using any language you want, but if you want to describe it factually/mathematically or prove it out, you use mathematics to do it and there are no accents involved.

But with respect to allowing students the ability or right to use whatever pattern or variety of language they see fit is very short sighted and even back then. I remember these arguments from back then too and it always struck me as odd as to why this would even be a suggestion. Don't you want a society that can base one of it's founding identities on the primary language it speaks, namely english? No one is asking that any other language not be spoken, but with respect to how the people interact with their government how and how government interacts with it's people, there should be one common language. Period. Otherwise we find ourselves at the Tower of Babel once more.

chickenlittle said...

No one is asking that any other language not be spoken, but with respect to how the people interact with their government how and how government interacts with it's people, there should be one common language. Period.

Things are changing fast Methadras. In Southern California, the historically English-speaking people have choosen to reproduce insufficiently, if at all.
Latinos now make over 60% of births here. My kids' schools are 55% Hispanic. I'm encouraging my son to start Spanish next year in 7th grade, and I'm going to learn it with him.

former law student said...

In Southern California, the historically English-speaking people have choosen to reproduce insufficiently, if at all.
Latinos now make over 60% of births here.

I remember reading that many historically English-speaking people have soured on the Golden State in the past decade, and have moved everywhere from Arizona/Nevada/Oregon to as far away as New Hampshire. The increase in population came from immigrants, legal as well as illegal.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Things are changing fast Methadras. In Southern California, the historically English-speaking people have choosen to reproduce insufficiently, if at all.
Latinos now make over 60% of births here


That's nice, but what about those students who plan to live or work in an area outside of Southern California, who are fluent in the 'bastardized' street Spanish that they learn to get along in the barrios and who are also NOT fluent in English as spoken in business or outside of their narrow barrio existence? They have effectively "getto-ized" themselves.

I say 'bastardized' because anyone who speaks Spanish as it is in UN-educated Mexico or the informal Spanish of East L.A. will be considered an ignorant, rube in Spain, Portugal and other Latin speaking countries, among the educated of those areas. Chinga tu madre isn't considered good form in Seville.

I agree. Learn a second language. If you live in California or any other border state, learn Spanish. However, if you are Mexican/Latino and you want to do better than work at the local Taco Bell, you'd better learn English and how to write a decent sentence or memo. Also learn how to make change without the machine telling you what to give back.

veni vidi vici said...

I'll never forget the thrill I felt after my first day of "Calculus for applied biology" (or something to that effect) in my freshman year of college. After years of pointless exercises from arithmetic to geometry to algebra, trig and eventually AP calculus, here was the point at which all this wordgame-like math was applied to the problems of the real world (first assignment dealt with rates of flow through channels of different diameters, i.e. veins and such) and it was really cool to see where all the years of persistence in learning and drilling that stuff ended up.

After that, I have always felt bad for those who, not seeing the point (which is seldom if ever shown until you get to the applied math courses in college anyway), dropped math as soon as they could, having found it of "no use to their lives".

Alas, I decided a hard-science track was not for me (not because of that calculus class or any level-of-difficulty issues) and moved on but I'm glad I at least got to see the point of it before life took me in a different direction.

wv: "sercu" -- a Transylvanian ritual where one is tied to a post as vampires dance around said post, before lighting it on fire.

Roy in Calif said...

Chickenlittle-

When I was a Chem major (many decades ago), German was mandatory (Beilstein, of course).

chickenlittle said...

@Roy: UW-Madison gave chem majors the choice of German, French or Russian.
Italians have lagged a bit in la chimica since the glory days of Avogadro

jr565 said...

I don't understand all of the grammatically correct, standardized being spouted by the people on this board.
Why can't you type things out in meaningless gobbledygook so that those of us not in cooperation with the discriminatory power system can understand what the hell you're talking about.

jr565 said...

And yes, I may have unintentionally left out a key word, making my sentence meaningless. But who's to say that it was an error? certainly not me.
As Bob Ross used to say "there are no mistakes, only happy accidents".

Let me now translate that into my new made up language:
"?And may yes,sentence meaningless. I error? have unintentionally out a key making my left But who's to word, say that it was an?"

Methadras said...

chickenlittle said...

Things are changing fast Methadras. In Southern California, the historically English-speaking people have choosen to reproduce insufficiently, if at all.
Latinos now make over 60% of births here. My kids' schools are 55% Hispanic. I'm encouraging my son to start Spanish next year in 7th grade, and I'm going to learn it with him.


I'm originally from San Diego and I've been a resident there for nearly 40 years, so I know what you are talking about. However, what you are essentially telling me is that we are becoming Mexico and that English is becoming a secondary language to the predominant demographic in the area, Spanish. Would this be different if we had a national language of English and all government documentation was in english too?

Manoj Sharma said...

Command on the grammar is necessary because without grammar knowledge you cant learn english.....Thanks
english summer camp

chickenlittle said...

However, what you are essentially telling me is that we are becoming Mexico and that English is becoming a secondary language to the predominant demographic in the area, Spanish. Would this be different if we had a national language of English and all government documentation was in english too?

No, I don't think it would different. Population is destiny-it's really as simple as that. It's really only a matter of time.
Plus I believe that Latino families do a far better job of watching out for their elders. Who's gonna look after the next generation Leisure World?

former law student said...

When I was a Chem major (many decades ago), German was mandatory (Beilstein, of course).

At my school, a solitary course in "Scientific German" was sufficient for that. The copy of Beilstein in the library had been printed in the US -- liberated from Nazi tyranny during WW II, by the "Alien Property Custodian."