Earlier this month, March fourth to be precise, National Grammar Day was celebrated in the U.S. I like to think was the impetus for many dinners of punctuation-meatloaf (or walnut loaf for the veggie punctuation partiers among us). The day provides a neat excuse to chat about grammar which – I think many readers of this blog will agree – is always welcome. I am going to take advantage (albeit belatedly) of this excuse here and focus the issue of grammar testing.
An article posted on National Grammar Day by Grammarly’s Brad Hoover reminded me of this topic. Specifically, it was his reference to an article posted last summer by Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. Wiens discusses in this article why he does not hire anyone (for any function) unless they pass a basic grammar test. The general message of Wiens’ article is uncontroversial: attention to detail is an important quality. However, his method for measuring this quality is very controversial. The 3,794 comments which currently accompany Wiens’ article will back me up on this assertion.
Grammar testing seems to be in fashion in some English-speaking communities and countries. David Crystal wrote recently on his blog that he suspects the renewed interest in several of his books – specifically Language A to Z, Words on Words, and Language Play – is related to the mandatory grammar tests for eleven-year-old students. This policy was introduced in 2012 by British MP and Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove.
I’m not sure whether tests like the one proposed by Gove will be helpful for children in the long run. Here’s an article from yesterday’s The Independent which suggests they will not be. However, for better or worse, such grammar tests comprise one of the many hoops English speakers must be equipped to jump through if they want to do certain things in their lives – such as find work at a particular organizations such as iFixit.
Personally, I love grammar terminology and think it is a useful thing for kids to learn so they can chat about language more easily – as well make and enjoy grammar jokes if they so choose. But there are many things which are equally important to learn. What and how best to teach and learn things remains a complex and open question.
From the perspective of this project, it would be interesting to consider the correlation between the sales of English usage guides and particular policies on grammar testing over time and in different national and cultural contexts. I wonder about the extent to which such policies are reactions to increased popular interest in grammar education. Or are they more often simply actions by lone grammatically-oriented politicians? The power to exercise personal pet peeves may be intoxicating.
Please feel free to share information or opinions on this topic or others. And (belated) hooray for National Grammar Day: march forth grammar lovers!