Grammar and tyranny

Here is a grammar teacher, let us call her Mrs. Malaprop.

And here is a grammar student, let us call him Billy Blood.

Mrs. Malaprop has been trained in the conventions of the contemporary University and has come to believe that correct grammar is determined entirely by the usage of the community and has no authority or necessity outside the community that determines the correctness. She leaves all the implied questions unasked, and out of deference to her I will do the same.

Billy Blood has been compelled by the wider community, of which he does not consider himself a member, to attend schools that train him in the conventions of the wider community of which he does not consider himself a part. His immediate community is a gang in some big city. 

Mrs. Malaprop has been assigned the task of teaching grammar to Billy Blood. It is her job, so she feels some compulsion to teach Billy grammar since she is paid to do so. But she knows perfectly well Billy has no desire to learn the conventions of the wider community of which he does not consider himself a member, but which considers him a member to the point that it considers itself responsible to train him in the conventions of the wider community. Based on that sense of responsibility, it feels justified in coercing Billy to attend training sessions in the conventions of the wider community.

I have framed this issue very deliberately because I want you to think about something. Is it possible for Mrs. Malaprop to teach Billy the conventions of grammar in the wider community (which, by the way, Mrs. Malaprop feels no personal loyalty to, but she knows she can’t flourish without attending to its rules – i.e. conventions) without violating his dignity and rights? Can she teach him without serving as the agent of a tyrannical government?

This is, in my view, an incredibly serious issue, so if you have any thoughts please help me through this.

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One Response

  1. I think what I’m getting at, a little more simply, is this question: can people be free and dignified in a context completely ruled by conventions?

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