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It’s About Good Grammar

The textbook representative and I had talked for about ten minutes when he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, cocked his head, and said, “Well, I see you are a grammarian.”  

We sat at a table in my 4th grade classroom.  I was a member of the county school committee to adopt, or choose,  new English textbooks for the next seven years.  Publisher representatives had made presentations to the committee and given each of us teacher manuals and student textbooks for our grade level.  Weeks later, most requested one-on-one meetings.

Although I had ninety-nine other things I could’ve been doing instead of talking with him, I was determined to be congenial while standing my ground.   I knew he wasn’t happy that I thought students should be taught grammar and practice rules in speech and writing.   

His textbooks took the whole language approach, where students were encouraged to express themselves and not be concerned with sentence structure, spelling, or grammar.  Supposedly, students learned by reading good literature, but did not need practice grammar usagd.  Thankfully, these textbooks weren’t adopted. 

  This experience from thirty years ago came to mind when I read an article about a book entitled Rebel With a Clause in the August 14th Parade magazine in this newspaper.   The book’s author, Ellen Jovin, calls herself the roving grammarian.  She travels across the country and sets up a Grammar Table to answer questions from passersby.  Oh, that I could sit beside her!  

In the days when I was a student, we diagrammed sentences, conjugated verbs and memorized prepositions.  I had many good teachers and lived with the best.  Dad taught high school English, and thru the years he corrected my grammar errors, even days before he took his last breath. 

Dad and I talked about grammar usage and especially about three words: I, me, and myself.  Probably we teachers made students scared of using the word me, and that came from breaking the habit of using me at the beginning of a sentence.  “Me and Granny ate all the apple pie.”  

No.  “Granny and I ate all the apple pie.”   But what happens if someone gave us the apple pie?

“Jane gave Granny and me an apple pie.”   I encouraged my 4th and 6th grade students to remember this by taking out the other person’s name.  No one would say, “Jane gave I an apple pie.”   

Oftentimes, oral practice taught students that generally I is at a sentence beginning and me in the middle or near the end.   

One of Dad’s pet peeves was the incorrect use of myself, a word used for emphasis or when the person who acts is the same as the one who receives the action.  “I myself think people want to use correct grammar.”  “I cut myself with a sharp knife.”  Myself doesn’t replace I or me. 

I know I don’t always use good grammar, but I must be a grammarian, as accused by the textbook salesman. Who else would be eager to read a book about the rules of language?


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