Bad grammar? It’s all good!

Correct grammar is apparently just a social construct, much like gender, to judge from the sage commentary of the vice chancellor at the University of Washington Tacoma:

The university's Vice Chancellor, Jill Purdy, claimed that the Writing Center's new statement is a great example of how academia can fight back against racism. "Language is the bridge between ideas and action," she claimed. "So how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do."

Ms. Purdy was praising the leadership of Asao B. Inoue, Ph.D., director, Writing Center, U.W. Tacoma: "I do research that investigates racism in writing assessments."  The title of one of the professor's books indicates the scrupulously fair and even-handed approach he brings to the subject: "Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future."  The blurb is instructive:

To explain how and why antiracist work in the writing classroom is vital to literacy learning, Inoue incorporates ideas about the white racial habitus that informs dominant discourses in the academy and other contexts. Inoue helps teachers understand the unintended racism that often occurs when teachers do not have explicit antiracist agendas in their assessments. Drawing on his own teaching and classroom inquiry, Inoue offers a heuristic[.] …

"White racial habitus ... dominant discourses ... heuristic" – if that isn't enough to put you off your feed, you have a stronger stomach than I.

The mission statement for the writing centers sounds noble enough: "The University of Washington's writing centers are staffed by knowledgeable tutors who provide students with customized guidance on writing projects."

For those unfamiliar with academic-ese, writing centers are for those "students" ("enrollees" would be more apt) who cannot even perform in freshman English.  I'm not certain about the U.W., but at a certain Big 10 campus, it works like this, or it did several years ago.

High school seniors test out of freshman English if they can.  Those who cannot must take freshman English.  Those who cannot perform even at that level must take up to three quarters of remedial English without credit.  But even that is not sufficient, so writing centers provide tutors to meet one on one with the students.  Students who complete the remedial, noncredit classes must then take freshman English.

I know this because I taught freshman English.  One of my students was writing at the level of a sixth-grader at best.  It was not just the broken grammar, missing punctuation, and mangled spelling; there was no logic whatsoever, not even a wisp of an argument.  After I got back his second writing assignment, I took his paper to the director of writing, who suggested we look up the student's records.  He had taken two quarters of remedial English, receiving Ds.  The director remarked that those were probably social passes.  He then looked up the man's ACT scores: fours and sixes.  "My God!  An ape could have done better!"  I burst out laughing.  "It's true," he said seriously.  "You would get higher scores by guessing randomly.  I think this person should not be at university."  I asked what I should do.  "Give the paper the grade it deserves."

I assigned an F, and the man dropped out a few weeks later.  Was he well served by a chance to go to a large public university and collect another failure?

I actually like dialectal writing.  However, a proficient writer is master (or mistress?) of a range of registers.  What is appropriate in one setting is not in another.

By the way, an introduction to registers can be found here.  But be forewarned: the very concept of registers is controversial in some quarters.  It's so easy to offend nowadays.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre of a writer in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.

Correct grammar is apparently just a social construct, much like gender, to judge from the sage commentary of the vice chancellor at the University of Washington Tacoma:

The university's Vice Chancellor, Jill Purdy, claimed that the Writing Center's new statement is a great example of how academia can fight back against racism. "Language is the bridge between ideas and action," she claimed. "So how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do."

Ms. Purdy was praising the leadership of Asao B. Inoue, Ph.D., director, Writing Center, U.W. Tacoma: "I do research that investigates racism in writing assessments."  The title of one of the professor's books indicates the scrupulously fair and even-handed approach he brings to the subject: "Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future."  The blurb is instructive:

To explain how and why antiracist work in the writing classroom is vital to literacy learning, Inoue incorporates ideas about the white racial habitus that informs dominant discourses in the academy and other contexts. Inoue helps teachers understand the unintended racism that often occurs when teachers do not have explicit antiracist agendas in their assessments. Drawing on his own teaching and classroom inquiry, Inoue offers a heuristic[.] …

"White racial habitus ... dominant discourses ... heuristic" – if that isn't enough to put you off your feed, you have a stronger stomach than I.

The mission statement for the writing centers sounds noble enough: "The University of Washington's writing centers are staffed by knowledgeable tutors who provide students with customized guidance on writing projects."

For those unfamiliar with academic-ese, writing centers are for those "students" ("enrollees" would be more apt) who cannot even perform in freshman English.  I'm not certain about the U.W., but at a certain Big 10 campus, it works like this, or it did several years ago.

High school seniors test out of freshman English if they can.  Those who cannot must take freshman English.  Those who cannot perform even at that level must take up to three quarters of remedial English without credit.  But even that is not sufficient, so writing centers provide tutors to meet one on one with the students.  Students who complete the remedial, noncredit classes must then take freshman English.

I know this because I taught freshman English.  One of my students was writing at the level of a sixth-grader at best.  It was not just the broken grammar, missing punctuation, and mangled spelling; there was no logic whatsoever, not even a wisp of an argument.  After I got back his second writing assignment, I took his paper to the director of writing, who suggested we look up the student's records.  He had taken two quarters of remedial English, receiving Ds.  The director remarked that those were probably social passes.  He then looked up the man's ACT scores: fours and sixes.  "My God!  An ape could have done better!"  I burst out laughing.  "It's true," he said seriously.  "You would get higher scores by guessing randomly.  I think this person should not be at university."  I asked what I should do.  "Give the paper the grade it deserves."

I assigned an F, and the man dropped out a few weeks later.  Was he well served by a chance to go to a large public university and collect another failure?

I actually like dialectal writing.  However, a proficient writer is master (or mistress?) of a range of registers.  What is appropriate in one setting is not in another.

By the way, an introduction to registers can be found here.  But be forewarned: the very concept of registers is controversial in some quarters.  It's so easy to offend nowadays.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre of a writer in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.