Descriptive versus Prescriptive: Another Left-Wing Scam
Everywhere we look, we’ve got pompous professors telling us they don’t dare prescribe what’s right in language. No, no, no, no. It’s not their role. Nor yours either, that’s for sure. People can express themselves as they wish. It’s America, the 21st century. God forbid we should tell anybody how to do anything.
“Weird Al” Yankovic put out a popular video called "Word Crimes." It’s gotten almost 20,000,000 views. In effect, he says: “Hey, moron, do it the right way.” He got everybody talking about correct grammar. Boy, we needed that. Thanks, Weird Al.
Naturally, all the primly pontificating nuisances crawled out of the woodwork to tell us: hey, stop all that prescribing! You can only describe.
And why? Because when anthropologists go in the jungle to study a primitive culture, they must remember that the natives are the experts on their own language. Great. That’s fine and dandy. But that has nothing to do with how we should deal with our own language. In our case, you ask the relevant experts (teachers, novelists, journalists), average the answers, and that's probably a good guide. But you certainly don’t listen to left-wing scam artists telling you that our experts are not allowed to speak, because anything they say would be prescriptive, and we don’t allow that when we go into the jungle on anthropological expeditions. Doesn’t this sophistry almost make your head spin?
But look again, and it turns out there is a second sophistry on top of the first one. These discussions about natives, experts, and ourselves casually presuppose that we are talking about adults. But many times, without ever acknowledging it, the discussion shifts over to school and the teaching of children. Isn’t it obvious that the freedom you might give to adults is not appropriately given to children?
In other words, when liberal sophisticates start discussing this issue, they always pose it in terms of freedom, creativity, self-expression, laissez-faire, do your own thing, and gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Sure, if you insist, adults can wear clothes inside-out and stay drunk. Let’s not waste time discussing it. If you want to arrange your sentences backward and break every grammatical rule, go for it.
What we’re discussing now is what’s appropriate in the early grades at school. Teaching is typically prescriptive, and that’s how it should be. Schools should teach the right ways to do things. (This approach has got to be far more efficient than what many public schools are now doing: teach no ways at all, or teach all the ways as if none is preferable.)
Bottom line, what newspapers call Standard English should be taught first. That seems to be what our left-wing professors are eager to stop.
So what are the pros and cons? Do you let a child do anything the child wants? Are you doing children a favor if you allow them to go out with dirty faces or raggedy clothes? Isn’t it foolish to pretend that children live and learn in a vacuum?
It seems to be common sense and common decency to tell children what is typically done. With regard to language, this might require explaining regional variations, work-related slang, and even class differences. Most children can understand these ideas at a fairly young age. They probably already speak a different way with their friends from how they do with their parents.
To pretend that all these nuances don’t exist is the opposite of teaching. To pretend that everything is equally acceptable is a nasty sort of nihilism.
Question is, why are liberals so eager to drown children in permissiveness and relativism? Who is being served? Just recently reports came out about a Chicago school that was teaching anal sex to fifth-graders. And this would be for whose benefit? The children's? No, this is surely liberals trying to break down the last barriers.
Presumably we’re seeing that same worldview when schools refuse to teach grammar. The point, always, is power – in this case, the power to make the rules. That’s why the left always maneuvers to control language, semantics, and education.
The sophistry prohibiting prescriptive grammar is not about grammar at all. It’s about the left being able to tell everybody else how to talk, and how to think. (Note that the anti-prescriptive diktat is itself prescriptive.)
Liberals always want to play their ideological games, using kids as guinea pigs. If you don’t tell the kids what the prevailing rules are, the kids will be left in an intellectual wasteland. To excuse this, you have a whole Education Establishment boldly proclaiming that whatever little children say is just fine, whatever it is. No rules, guessing, and invented spelling – that’s what elementary education is for many.
But how can they justify all this logically? Well, some genius thought, why don’t we just bring back anthropological field work to our own society? We’ll announce (and argue with great indignation) that professional authors, English professors, and smart citizens who have used the language expertly for a lifetime have absolutely no special standing. They should shut up, lest they be guilty of the crime of prescription. The left has gotten away with this fluff for 75 years.
Aren’t you tired of left-wing professors using lame sophistries to dumb down the schools and the society? Here’s a plan: don’t accept lame sophistries.
Interesting point: can’t you just bet that the natives themselves are totally prescriptive when it comes to their language and their children?
Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.