I don’t have a very positive experience of the State of Queensland’s education system. Two children I brought here from Victoria when I took up my present position were doing well until they got here. Now both left before completing school amidst confusion and boredom to my great dismay. It’s not that there aren’t well intentioned teachers, or that Victoria was replete with Poet’s Society-type teachers, but that Queensland insists on doing things its own way, meaning that the curriculum is impenetrable to an outsider.
An example of this has come to light, as evidenced by a couple of Language Log posts: the grammar guide for teachers is a mishmash of confusion and error, according to an expert in linguistics, with whom the LL writers agree. They seem to have invented their own terminology for grammar, and get the traditional grammar terminology wrong. It also means that parents cannot assist their kids because they do not understand what is being proposed.
Now grammar wars and grammar nazis go back a long time, and the fight seems to this outsider to be between those who follow Chomskyian transformational grammars and those who follow traditional grammars. It doesn’t help that Chomsky’s ideas were a scientific hypothesis rather than a teaching tool, which traditional grammars had, as the second LL post observes, two thousand years behind it as a teaching tool. It doesn’t help even more that this is framed as a Left-Right split. The teaching of the “three Rs” is often a conservative rhetorical strategy in politics. But surely some standards are needed if language is not to become a class test. What is often overlooked in the grammar wars is that teaching traditional grammars removes many of the indicators of class, by making everyone capable of speaking in a “standard” manner. Of course, one cannot say that and not point out that the grammars of class-based and ethnically based speech are linguistically as sophisticated (and sometimes moreso than the “standard” form of a language like BBC English or Hochdeutsch) as any other kind, or else one might think I
was were claiming that only the approved form is correct.
But I think traditional grammars were thrown out too soon. They could have been reformed (that damned accusative, and the ablative and subjunctive, could all be refined and revised) but they worked as a way to learn a new language. And no matter what political views one has, making the kinds of errors reported in the paper is inexcusable.