I, like probably most residents of this province, support the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation in opposing government changes to the education system, especially the one regarding a proposal to enlarge class sizes.
But I also have a complaint about the teachers themselves, one I have harboured for a long, long time.
Teachers have to do something to ensure that all graduates of the school system or even those who don’t make it all the way at least do so with a working understanding of the English language.
The teaching of proper grammar has taken a back seat for far too long.
I had been pondering about writing a column on this for about three years before I finally got around to doing so in 2015.
My hope was that if the Ministry of Education wasn’t going to provide teachers with a blueprint for getting proper English usage across to students, then teachers would band together to come up with one themselves.
Didn’t happen, so I am appealing again.
I just think there has to be a simple way to imbue students with the basics of the language.
I entered journalism with the Trail Times in B.C. with only high school behind me. When it came to language, I was ill-prepared for what I was to face.
However, as I explained in my column in 2015, I was fortunate to be taken in hand by a mentor who was a language purist.
Ironically, as I said in that column, she was a member of the group I was about to malign.
Ethel McIntosh, a proofreader at The Times, was a retired high school teacher. As my copy did not pass through an editor on the way to what was then the composing room, she not only had to correct the mistakes made by the printers but also the grammatical errors I made.
So she offered to give me grammar lessons and I gratefully accepted.
The first thing she had me do was learn about the base form, past tense and past participle of irregular verbs, such as lie, lay, lain; drink, drank, drunk; go, went, gone; come, came, come; bite, bit, bitten; write, wrote, written: bring, brought, brought.
The latter example provided a rather auspicious start to our lessons.
Mrs. Mac, as she was known throughout the paper, asked me for the past tense and past participle of bring.
Bring, brang, brung,” I replied, showing my ignorance of the language.
“We have some work to do,” she said in her quiet manner.
Mrs. Mac provided me with several pages of irregular verbs and instructed me to memorize them, explaining that she considered this as important to English as the memorizing of the times table was to mathematics.
She estimated about 50% of the errors in English usage came about because students were not forced to memorize the workings of irregular verbs, “have went” being one of the most-common misuses.
I memorized the list but I still couldn’t explain to you what makes an irregular verb. The technical aspects of taking apart a sentence are beyond me.
I recall way back in elementary school teachers breaking down sentences and not having a clue what they were all about. Bare predicate is about the only term I remember from that time.
I would have thought that it would be better now but listening to some of the things that are said on air by well-known announcers, I know it isn’t..
I actually heard a retired admiral who now works with CNN say this week, “me and my kids were . . . “
It should, of course, be “my kids and I were . . . “
In real life you hear people start sentences with “me and John, him and I, her and me.”
Shouldn’t there by a way to have young minds memorize that you cannot start a sentence with “me” or “him” at any time.
I have been a fan of The Big Bang Theory television show for years. Most of those in the show are supposed to be super intelligent physicists, yet the grammar in some of the lines the writers provide them doesn’t support this.
They are constantly given lines such as “he is smarter than me” when it should be “he is smarter than I (am)”.
As I said in my column in 2015, I am no grammar Nazi. I just think that unless the role calls for poor grammar, then proper grammar should be what is spoken.
And contrary to what some in the news business believe, that all quotes have to be exact, I always advocated correcting bad grammar. I have seen instances where the person being quoted was made to look foolish because of the mangled verbiage. I see that as being irresponsible on the part of the news organization involved.
I want to make this clear. I am not just criticizing English teachers with this piece; I am criticizing all teachers who work with the written and spoken word.
When grading tests all teachers could be a great help to students by pointing out errors in grammar and spelling. Within unions apparently you often hear, “that’s not my job.” I hope that is not be the case here.
I think everyone involved in the school system should do what they can to ensure the English remains as intended.
All teachers may think they are doing just that but my point here is that whatever they are doing is not working in enough cases.
My fear in all this is that if something is not done to protect the English language, such as finding ways to teach it so that it sticks, that what we are seeing now in so many instances will become the norm.