Grammar Is as Grammar Does

Every year without fail, I’d have kids who entered my ninth grade English class not knowing the parts of speech. No kidding, about half of the kids who came through my classroom door couldn’t tell me what an adjective is, let alone label one in a sentence. I spent a few years being flabbergasted about it and trying to be the hero teacher who would finally help my students grasp a basic that had heretofore eluded them. It wasn’t until I came into my own as a teacher that I decided to say, “So what? Grammar is as grammar does.” I realized that, short of a Jeopardy-contestant situation, most of us will never need to call upon our knowledge of the definition of a subjunctive clause. We all, however, need excellent writing skills to succeed in careers, to be engaged citizens, and to avoid looking like a cotton-headed ninnymuggins on Facebook. 

That’s when I decided to chuck the weeks of class time I might have spent on grammar book exercises and jump headlong into helping students address the grammar gremlins that were haunting their writing. They were happier, I was less frustrated, and their writing benefitted in ways that no hammering of the nuances of grammatical study could touch. And sometimes on Fridays we’d do Mad Libs, which never made anybody slam a book shut or tear up in frustration. 

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do any formal grammar instruction in your homeschool. By all means, please, give your younger students a strong foundation in how our language works. 

But, if by the time your kids have reached high school, you’re both still tearing your hair out trying to grasp all of that jargon, I’m telling you that it’s okay to let it go. LET IT GO. Spend that time working on the writing that’s in front of you, learning from mentor sentences, finding the errors your student makes habitually and digging in to address those issues. 

Your kid’s employer or college admissions officer won’t care if he or she can diagram a sentence. What will matter is whether he or she can produce a well-crafted piece of writing.