When I came to Kansai Gaidai last month, I had to start teaching TOEFL again, which I hadn’t taught since prior to joining USC, and when my director raised the question of adapting the curriculum to a hybrid class that also includes “structure,” I questioned whether the TOEFL still limited its scope to English. Of course, the test designers of the TOEFL employ “structure” as a euphemism to avoid the taboo associated with the term “grammar.”

But, if you’ve ever wondered where the bias against grammar draws its impetus, linguist John McWhorter spells it out for you in this video — critical theory and post-modernism deserve the blame, of course. I would go further than he does, however, and assert that the entire prescriptive/descriptive dichotomy that gets bandied around so much in linguistics circles boils down to academics apologizing for knowing that correct forms of communication exist.

He also draws a cutting analogy between fashion and language that elucidates why society shouldn’t blush about acknowledging that some language is appropriate and other language is not.

He explains the situation better than I could hope to. Enjoy.

The reason that a lot of schools stopped teaching grammar in a formal way is because of a new fashion that arose, particularly in schools of education, that said teaching the rules of standard English grammar was a political action and it was oppressive to people whose home dialect, or home language, is something other than the mainstream Wonder Bread standard …

He implicates schools of education, and he is correct to do so. Elon Musk is not wrong when he accuses U.S. education systems of indoctrination. Much of the “research” and “theory” to which educators subscribe draws on as much data as religion. The Whole Language theories of Steven Krashen provide a good example. You can attend applied linguistics conferences today and hear new researchers citing Krashen’s theories, which educators acknowledge do not qualify as science, to say nothing of the fact they are more than 20 years old.

Ever since the Greeks, even in the Dark Ages, schools taught grammar as a foundation and essential element of education. In America, the early grades used to be called “grammar school.” But toward the end of the last century, many of our schools all but stopped teaching grammar. Somehow we’re supposed to be able to write without knowing anything about the equipment we’re using. We’re supposed to “express ourselves,” to squeeze out the orange juice of our souls, without being given anything to do it with, not even a knife to cut the orange.

Le Guin, Ursula K.. Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (pp. 13-14). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.

I’m not entirely sure why the field of education is plagued with bad science and people who lack a proper respect for data, but I suspect the blood trail will lead the hounds to American culture. Our notion that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” (Yes, I know that Shaw was English) reveals an attitude that education, and particularly K-12 education, from which applied linguistics derives its methodologies, is a field for mediocrities. And post-modern thinking makes it all too easy for mediocre academics to play at doing research while looking through a lens that falsifies no hypotheses and expects no results.

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