Favreageddon II

I only post expectations for football games that look like they could be close or interesting, so this is only the second time I’ve bothered posting about the Packers this year and the other was when they played the Vikings too.

So far, I’ve picked the winner in every Packer game, but was off when they played the Vikings on the score. I thought they’d lose by 20 and they almost obliged me till the late game comeback.

This time, I’m finding it harder to predict. Differences:

  • The Pack has a much better offensive line situation.
  • They’ve got more mastery of the new defense (I wish they were playing MN in December though)
  • It’s outside
  • It’s at Lambeau
  • Their starting safety is back
  • Favre threw 50 passes last week
  • Nick Barnett is more fully recovered from his injury
  • They are making better use of Aaron Kampman
  • Clay Matthews starts at linebacker
  • BJ Raji should be a bit healthier than last time
  • Aaron Rodgers has accelerated his delivery

Meanwhile, Antoine Winfield is missing from the Vikings secondary, which isn’t very good without him. The Packers could conceivably pass for 400 yards in this game.

However,

  • The Vikings are getting more in tune with Favre
  • Jermichael Finley might miss the game for the Packers

So I don’t think it will be a tweny point game this time. It has the potential to be very close and very intense: a game for the ages. If that happens, the Packers will win because Favre will make a mistake of the first magnitude when the game is on the line.

What do I think will happen, barring injuries?

  • Very intense back and forth game
  • Some very big offensive plays by both teams, but more by the Packers
  • Some great special teams by the Vikings
  • A few game-turning defensive plays, by both teams

The final score may or may not reflect the intensity of the contest, but I think it will be in the 27’s range: 27 – 27, plus overtime or 30-27 Packers or 27-26 Vikings or something like that. I can’t say I expect one team or the other to win. I can’t make up my mind on that.

But to make the prediction, I’ll say that I think the Packers offense might come together the way it would do in 2007 and become a machine. If so, they win. I’ll go with 30-27.

When and How to Teach Grammar: Beginning Reflections

Since grammar is so important, the question becomes, “when and how should I teach it?”

Happily, the first question is pretty easy, so I’ll deal with it first.

“When should I teach grammar?”

Always.

Or let me be a little more specific: any time you do anything that involves language or thinking.

I’ll remind my readers that the thinking part is just as important, because grammar is not ultimately rooted in language, which is a structured collection of symbols, but in thought itself, which uses those symbols to perform its task.

And I’ll push it a step further and say that grammar is not ultimately rooted even in thinking, but in reality itself. Nothing can exist without something “predicable” of it – i.e. something that you can say or think about it.

Thus grammar goes beyond language to thinking and thinking goes beyond words to reality – to things that exist.

But I can push a step further still and argue that grammar is ultimately rooted in God Himself. I might develop this thought further in a later post, but when Moses asked God whom he should tell the Egyptians and Israelites has sent him, God answered, “I am.”

That’s a pretty profound statement when we come to thinking about the world around us, the soul within, the people among us, and the God above us.

Which may explain why Nietzsche, that famous atheist, famously stated, “We will not be rid of God until we are rid of grammar.”

Indeed.

So that maybe answers the question why a Christian would want to study grammar – so we don’t get “rid of God.”

But it also lays a foundation for the answer to the question “When should I teach grammar?”

We must not think about grammar as an academic study. Life is not for school; school is for life. We should always teach grammar for the simple reason that we always do teach grammar.

If you are speaking to another person, you are helping form the pattern of that person’s thinking. You are contributing to his vocabulary (maybe that’s more obvious), and you are also contributing to the structure of his thought.

If you constantly speak to your two or three year old child in one and two word sentences, that is how your child will tend to think. And that’s more or less OK with a one year old, less so with a two year old, and horrible with a three year old.

Maybe it would help to draw a distinction between formal and informal instruction. But the two overlap a great deal, so don’t let the lines between the two grow too thick.

You are always teaching grammar informally, because you are always setting patterns for imitation for those around you.

To reverse the movement: If you listen to sermons with sloppy grammar, you will make a space in your soul for that pattern. If you like the person giving the sermon, you might even come up with (irrelevant) defenses for that sloppy grammar.

If you are a pastor or preacher, may I entreat on behalf of the God who gave us His written word and is the Living Word, please attend to your grammar.

If you listen to friends use sloppy grammar, you will find it much more difficult to resist the inclination to pattern your minds on the way they are speaking. Friends can literally make each other dumber or smarter.

As a mother, you should do everything in your power to form words correctly and to form sentences even more correctly. If you are not confident in your own grammar, read to your children, but only from books with sound grammar.

And don’t be discouraged. I’ve indicated my need to refine my grammar, which is one reason I keep writing about it when I ought to be working on other things. But this is that important; income or no. Part of rebuilding our civilization is rebuilding our grammar, so we can think and communicate and know better.

So when should I teach grammar? Always.

But a caution: don’t be burdened and don’t make it a burden. As adults trying to learn what we didn’t learn as children, it can be a terrible nuisance because we’ve formed habits. So many of mine arise from late 70’s adolescent cool tones.

I remember as a teenager, about 15 or 16, having a spiritual experience. One strange thing that came out of it was a recognition that the way I spoke was ungodly. I didn’t swear and all that, not very much, but I said “man” all the time.

That really bothered me, so I tried to cut back on it. When I mentioned it to Christian friends, they thought I had a hang-up. That unsettled me a bit, but not anymore. It wasn’t a hang-up; it was a spiritually perceived realization that language matters and that I was using it in self-indulgent, ego-driven ways.

There’s more subtlety to James’s words about the tongue than might be evident on the surface!

We all have habits that we need to break. It’s hard to do so as an adult.

That’s why we should start teaching grammar to our children as early as we possibly can.

But the question arises as to when we should begin to teach it formally.

This also is a more complicated question than we might wish. If you know grammar very well, you might never have to teach it formally. You might be so attuned to it that every time you speak you express it well and every time you hear someone else speak you can guide them to grammatical glory.

But the people who could do that left us when the east coast elite women left the classroom for the boardroom. Thanks a lot…

What about the rest of us? When should we start teaching grammar?

Here we can be intimidated by the ocean of complexity and detail that overwhelms us. It is because of this detail and complexity, combined with our formal ignorance, that text books are needed.

So now we have to add to our questions, “When should I start?” and “How should I teach it?” a third question, “What text book should I use?”

Let’s catch our breath. So far, I’ve tried to convince you that grammar is a wonderful and powerful thing so your students/children will benefit enormously from learning it and God will be glorified.

I’ve also argued that children are learning grammar constantly from the environment in which they live, the pond in which they swim.

Furthermore, I’ve recognized the extraordinary challenge we all face because very few of us were taught grammar rigorously when we were children – even those of us who can look back to the 60’s and earlier.

But my basic point in all of this remains and I’ll argue for it with passion: we absolutely need to teach our children correct, formal grammar until it becomes second nature for them.

Now, I’ve dropped a few hints and comments about how we need to start teaching grammar informally as early as when the child is in the womb for the simple reason that we do start teaching it that soon. What I mean is this: since we do it anyway, let’s do it consciously.

Or even this: since we do it anyway, we are morally bound to do it consciously and correctly.

The discussion about the informal teaching of grammar could last forever because you teach this way in response to circumstances and events. It’s an on-the-fly mode of teaching.

You can only teach what you know that way.

I was fortunate in this area, because my mother grew up in Potsdam (as I have only recently learned) in Germany. She left at the end of WWII when she was in her late teens.

German, therefore, was her first language, and that, from what I can tell, a rather formal version of German.

When she came to the states and tried to raise four barbarian sons, she was not at all hesitant about correcting our speech. I don’t know if we consciously listened to her corrections and made an effort to implement them, but we lived under her voice and with her corrections as part of the water we swam in.

She spoke with a pretty thick Prussian accent, but she used good structure and I have no doubt that my ears were attuned to the rhythms of her speech.

As I recall, she spoke clearly. She used to make up stories for us when we would drive hither and yon (I kept getting drowned in them for some reason!) and in my memory the sentences were crisp and clear.

And an important point: the fact that she corrected our grammar breathed into our souls the idea that grammar mattered, even if only to mom. I could have taken the rebellious path and determined that I would deny her values, but my desire to know what the Bible meant sort of pinned me in.

My mother could teach grammar on the fly – but not technically, as far as I can recall. I don’t remember her ever naming the parts and forms we were supposed to use. I just remember that she told us we were supposed to use them.

So we went to school – the Milwaukee Public Schools for the most part, though we spent a year and a half at a Lutheran school. I learned enough there by third grade to get me comfortably into fifth in the public school.

In fact, I received more than just content there, and I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this since then because my bottom reminds me what an unpleasant time I had there. But the instruction at least included a formal element that not only gives the mind things to think about but sets patterns for the mind to move in when it thinks.

And that leads to the question of how to teach grammar formally.

However, nobody can stand any more of this in a single blog post, so I’ll stop for now and pick that up in a later post.

This much I’ll say: formal grammatical instruction is one of the five foundations of all learning and you literally CANNOT be educated without it.

Thanks for stopping by!

Classics Illustrated

I have no idea if this is a good thing, but I have discovered a web site where someone has scanned in each page of the old Classics Illustrated comic books. I used to love these as a child, and I think they make a very good introduction to a lot of the stories they’ll read in high school.

Either because you remember them, or so your children can read some of them, take a look at this web site: Classics Illustrated

The War Against Grammar

Every now and then I come across a book that addresses a ridiculously important issue and does it with a clarity and grace – and knowledge – that drives me to urge the book on others. Lately, I am pretty sure I’ve discovered such a book. It’s called The War Against Grammar, by David Mulroy.

I have mentioned it before and have read portions in the past, but reading it again in short snatches over the last few days has compelled me to draw it to your attention. First, because the issue of grammar is so astoundingly important at every level of our existence. Second, because he provides insight and perspective that help us think more intelligently about the matter.

May I say that at a certain level I don’t even care if he is right in his contentions. What I appreciate is that he enables me, by the way he writes, to think more intelligently about the matter.

But I do hope somebody is right about the issues he deals with, because grammar is so astoundingly important at every level of our existence.

In chapter one, Mulroy describes the present situation, one that he was both experienced and observed as a professor of classics at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. College students simply don’t know grammar anymore. This most educated people in the history of the world, as I think President Obama called us, has not mounted the first rung of the educational ladder.

The second chapter describes in a few rapid pages the development of the seven liberal arts from the development of the alphabet around 800 BC (and he explains why what the Greeks developed as an alphabet was fundamentally different from all the previous prototypical alphabets, such as the Phoenician and Hebrew systems, from which the Greeks borrowed a great deal – they didn’t invent the alphabet out of thin air. He also shows how that alphabet led to the explosion of Greek learning).

In chapter three he suggests something very, very compelling about which I need to think some more. He suggests that the rise of the university in the middle ages led to the decline of grammar because, having rediscovered the final bits of Aristotle’s logic, they put logic on such an exalted pedestal that the other arts paled in their minds. In a way, I can see why they would do that. But it was still a mistake and it rests close to the heart of all the errors of subsequent western philosophy.

The humanists of the 14th-17th century revived grammar and produced writers like Dante, Shakespeare, and Erasmus and Mulroy shows how that happened and who was responsible for it.

Then comes chapter four, perhaps the climax of the book. He opens it with these fateful words:

For two thousand years, no one in the western tradition challenged the notion that education should be based on the liberal arts, starting with grammar… It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century in America that a full-fledged revolt against the liberal arts occurred. This happened under the banner of “progressive education.”

Dewey sought a balance, Mulroy suggests, but when Kilpatrick came along the extremism of contemporary Progressive theory (which dominates the teachers colleges and unions) was unleashed. This chapter gets only more and more interesting as he continues, for he treats the Progressives with appropriate respect and understands their arguments and positions. He sees what they got right.

As he proceeds, he describes what he calls “the return of speculative grammar” in the 1950’s, and develops the theme that the modern era has a great deal more in common with the medieval era during which the university came into being than it might want to admit. He proceeds to discuss Chomsky’s theories and his support for the teaching of traditional grammar, the place of diagramming, and what he calls “the scandal of prescriptivism.”

Having jumped the trenches and engaged the enemy in hand to hand combat, Mulroy raises his banner on the other side and offers some counsel for this already fable-ized third millenium in the fifth chapter. I love the opening section: Where are despots when you really need them. Maybe those who are busily expanding the totalitarianism of our own government will be overly sensitive to the language through their own guilt, but those of us whose spirits are free find the irony quite tasteful.

Because the great problem of 20th century civilization was its yearning to discover a freedom that didn’t mean anything, a freedom not of self-governance nor of natural perfection but of freedom from restraint and pain – an abstract freedom.

Grammar serves as the locus for the battle over whose freedom will govern society and our minds: the freedom of those who believe in the glory of human nature and yearn to see it perfected, who recognize the tendency of tyrants to disable the mind through confusion and instability, who see discipline as the foundation for both freedom and creativity, and who hold language and therefore grammar in an exalted place – or the freedom of those who believe that human beings are chemically and environmentally determined and can be altered according to the will of the ruling powers through social experimentation, who project their tyrannical ambitions onto their opponents so that they can unhinge the minds of young people by denying them awareness of their own nature and the nature of their thought processes (e.g. and i.e. that every thought has a subject and a predicate and so does every existing thing), and who, therefore, cry loudly that instruction in grammar, the first step to freedom of thought, is a tyrannical imposition by cultural tyrannists.

Make no mistake. The future of the human race turns on whether we teach proper grammar to our children.

I don’t know if Mulroy would follow me all the way to that final claim, but I’m pretty confident he’d like to see our children learn grammar anyway. It would make it so much easier for him to grade their papers.

Get his book (which I hope to add to the CiRCE store in the near future) at this link:

http://www.heinemann.com/products/0551.aspx

Asterix turns 50

Anybody with even the slightest lunacy has to love the follies of Asterix and Obelix. On October 29 (today), they turn 50 and who can believe it?

Happy half-century, my heroes.

Hey, somebody else I know is about to turn a half-century old soon too!

Grammar Lesson 1

I don’t know grammar well enough and I suffer for it, so I am going to make an effort to learn a bit of grammar every week and post what I can here for your reflection. First, a foundational thought:

Grammar is where God, man, the soul, thinking, knowledge, and the cosmos all come together.

Grammar is based on the link between something that exists and something that apllies to something that exists.

God “exists.” He called Himself, “I Am.”

He made us, putting us in the garden to steward it. As stewards, we need to know what we are stewarding, so he made us able to know the world we live in.

The world around us exists as things that act or are acted on and have properties or qualities. In other words, the world is full of subjects with predicates.

To know the world around us we must think it. When we think something, we always think something about it. In other words, the mind thinks subjects and predicates.

Predicate comes from the Latin and means “to say about.”

All thought and all existence revolve around the relation between subjects and predicates (substances and properties if you like). Truth, when applied to statements, is the right relation between the subject and the predicate (and all the qualifiers of each – such as adjectives, adverbs, etc.).

Falsehood exists in statements.

Think about that.

Falsehood exists in statements. It is a broken relationship between the subject and the predicate.

I’m tempted to say that falsehood only exists in statements, but it can also exist in acts of the will, such as the basketball player who deceives the defender into thinking he is going right and then cuts left.

But I do think falsehood can always be expressed in a statement. For example, the basketball player would be able to say, “I am going right,” but then the relationship of subject and predicate would be revealed to be false when he went left.

All of the parts of a false statement are true – they all exist, even if only in the mind of the speaker. But falsehood exists in the relationship between those parts.

Truth and falsehood, in other words, are relations.

They are relations contemplated in grammar.

So as I improve my grammar over the coming months, all of my studies will take place in the light of these principles.

To make them practical, I’ll repeat the first practical fact of grammar: it revolves around subjects and predicates and their relations.

If I remember, I’ll try to add a witty/witless sentence each time, like this one from The Holt Handbook, 3rd Edition:

Venus de Milo is a statue created by a famous artist with no arms.

Practicality and Prudence

I do a lot of teacher training and one thing I have to do is meet the request by teachers for practical help. People want practical instruction from me.

They tend to show great confidence in me, as though nothing could be easier than giving sound practical counsel. They don’t realize how frightful a thing it is to attempt to give practical advice from a distance.

  • The danger of applying a general principle without regard for circumstances scares me, but that is precisely what curricular programs and formulaic counsel do.
  • The farther removed you are from a specific situation, the more you need to abstract your applications. The teacher might think, “Oh, now I can solve that problem, he has given me a technique.” If you can solve a problem with a technique, it wasn’t a pedagogical problem.
  • By drawing all these abstractions, you have already made a high level of education impossible. For example, if I say, “This is how you use this program,” anything I say will be so abstract and statistical and general that it will undercut the possibility of achieving a truly great education for the students in your class.

Thus, practical instruction is needed, but it is always much less practical than the teacher’s wisdom. We need to know principles and causes, not abstracted techniques.

Let My Children Read

If you read something once you haven’t really read it at all. You’ve introduced yourself to it, not altogether unlike the way you would introduce yourself to a  telephone solicitor and then courteously listen to his advertisement, which is highly unlikely to interest you.

The reason for this is not hard to find if you direct your attention to the workings of the reading mind. A mind at work is a mind asking questions. Some questions are natural to the reader and cannot be ignored, no matter how much the idealistic reader or teacher would like them to be ignored.

Since they can’t be ignored, I recommend answering them.

Other questions are natural to the act of reading and determine its quality.

Since you can’t read well without answering these questions, I recommend knowing and answering them.

Other questions arise from the particular text being read.

And still others arise from the circumstances in which the reader finds himself.

For this reason, I generally teach my students to read with an eye to answering questions they are asking anyway. Then I can teach them how to ask the sorts of questions that arise from the nature of reading and therefore enable a reader to become an excellent reader.

What are these questions?

To begin with, the questions that are natural to the reader:

How long is this going to take? Does the author offer any shortcuts? How long is each section?

Please note that these are not the questions of a trouble making student who doesn’t want to do his homework. I just finished lunch, over which I was reading from the novel The Red and the Black. I had about fifteen minutes to read, so I wanted to know how long it would take to read a chapter.

Some readers can be made to feel guilty for asking such questions. I was relieved to know that I could read a chapter of about five pages without straining at the bit, so I set about it, relaxed, more or less.

Other questions are natural to the act of reading. For example:

What sort of structure does this book use? How many unfamiliar words will I encounter?

If it’s a narrative, who are the primary actors? Where does it take place? When?

If it’s an argument, what is the primary concern and what sort of argument does he use? Does he include narrative?

These are questions that can be answered without reading the book closely. I teach my students to and I scan and skim the book, highlighters in hand if I want to read closely.

But even if I just want to do a quick pleasure read, I’ll still flip through the pages looking for the main outlines of the writer’s thinking or the actors and settings.

The only exception is for a dramatic reading. In that case, since I want to respect the author’s right to build suspense I’ll only scan one chapter at a time. But since the plot is the least informative part of a story, I don’t worry about it too much.

Another question that arises from the nature of reading is:

Does the author say anything memorably? Are there any profound insights or axioms? Anything I’d like remember and ponder and add to my commonplace book?

If so, I highlight them.

Then I go at the text for its own sake based on the nature of the text I’m reading. For example, if I’m reading a story, I, like everybody else, keep turning the pages because I want to know what I think of the actors, what decisions they are going to have to make, and how those decisions will affect them. So that’s where I focus my attention.

Not on words and motifs and tricks of the writing trade. All of those are important. That’s why I don’t discuss them yet. They’re important because they help the reader understand the actors decision and what the author is suggesting about that decision. But that’s a deeper read about which the typical reader has no interest the first time he reads a book.

And the reader who is driven by questions about those more technical questions is precisely the reader who is trying to take control of the story away from the story teller. For example, a writing student might read a story to see what kinds of metaphors a writer used. Fine. But as long as you are focused on that, the story will pass you by.

After you have read the story for its own sake (asking about the actor and his decisions) and it has done its magic on you, then you can come back and ask those questions with true comprehension.

But I’d still wait. I’d ask other questions first. Should he have done that? What were the effects of his decision? What led him to make the decision? Were the reasons good enough? How does the protagonist compare with other actors in the story or in other stories?

In other words, let the story build itself up. Stay focused on the story at hand. As you ask these questions, the answers will gradually move you out from the story to other stories. Then, comparing with other stories, you’ll start to notice themes and issues that run across books. Then you’ll start to notice more and more, naturally, the tools and tricks authors use to get you to notice things.

And you won’t give anything up in the process; not pleasure reading and not technical learning.

But that’s precisely why if you’ve only read something once, you haven’t really read it. You’ve only answered a very few of the questions your mind wants answered. Do that enough and eventually reading will become nothing but a chore or a productive task.

Please notice that all of these questions are perfectly natural and universal. Even a child being read to is asking these questions, though I acknowledge that the more you divide into various genres and the more specific the questions become the less young children ask them.

But if a child goes through a text like I’ve just described, which takes a very, very short time and pushes so-called comprehension through the roof, they will be able to attack any text with more confidence and pleasure.

But if you have them read to cull information off the surface or infer answers to unimportant questions so they can do well on a standardized reading comprehension test, beware. You are not teaching them how to comprehend. You have redefined comprehension. You have dehumanized the act of reading. You have, by your means of assessment, altered the act of reading to something nobody enjoys very much. You have encouraged habits of illiteracy.

Let them read. Let them ask questions that arise from the nature of reading. Most of them will love it.

Shark as Shark Bait

A fascinating shark attack in Australia makes me wonder if its aptness as a metaphor for politics and therefore of the totally politicized world we are being forced to live in isn’t too obvious:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/27/shark-bites-shark-in-half_n_335346.html 

It’s about a giant shark cannibalizing another, smaller shark. I know that many people feel that is what life is like, but I simply haven’t encounered that myself. I will grant you that when we are insecure or afraid we become incredibly cruel, but that insecurity and fear isn’t necessary.

The function of the family is to provide a secure setting in which people don’t need to be sharks or even swim with them.

Small local communities cooperate to protect and care for each other.

Nor is it mere social contract. On the contrary, it is good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in unity. It’s annoying when they don’t get along. In other words, we are inclined by nature to live together in harmony.

But we do have sharks within us.

That’s maybe the funniest irony of our era. Politicians and educators and other manipulators of public opinion tell us how we are so good by nature, but the underlying attitude of all practical people is that you have to swim with the sharks to succeed.

So the politicians set themselves up as the ones who will protect us from the sharks – like, say, doctors, teachers, parents – you know, the people who could actually love you if only they could get to know you.

Because we have sharks within us and among us, we need to define and limit what people are allowed to do. Job descriptions help with this, like, for example, our constitution.

What Makes For Poor Writing

The writer who writes to get his reader to agree with him is a child-writer; an under-developed mind. I don’t want you to agree with my propositions. I want you to see what I see – or at least what I am trying to see. Maybe you can help.

If you see what I see or see it better than I see it, then we can talk about agreeing or disagreeing. Until then, who cares whether we agree? We aren’t talking about the same thing.