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  • Teaching grammar stops violence

    Teaching grammar stops violence.  French Minister of Education Gilles de Robien insists that his new initiative to improve grammar teaching in French schools will actually avert a repeat of the riots that took place in the fall of 2005, when immigrant teenagers ran through the streets night after night looting stores, attacking police, and burning thousands of cars.   

    French riots

    Grammarless French youth rioting, November, 2005  

    De Robien’s proposal promotes grammar to the top of the educational food chain, more important than reading, mathematics, or science.  The minister insists that only by learning the parts of speech and the function of words within a sentence can human beings make sense of the universe, take control of nature, and impose our intelligence on the world.  

    According to a special report that de Robien commissioned, grammar imposes rules on words, forcing us to express our ideas clearly and precisely.  Without that precise expression, humans are no better than animals.  The minister warns, “When young people have difficulty expressing themselves the tone can rise quickly.”   So starting next Fall there will be a minimum of two hours of grammar instruction per week from the earliest grades through high school.  With this new emphasis on grammar, French children will learn to express themselves better, and to riot less. 

    Police and fire fighters at the riots

    A French fire fighter and a blazing Deux-Chevaux

    But British Minister for Schools Jim Knight reacted to De Robien’s plan with derision, noting in a letter to the Times Education Supplement that grammar lessons in the schools don’t prevent violence, they cause it.  And while the Washington Post recently reported that grammar was starting to reappear in American classrooms, the U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English meeting in Nashville that grammar was dropped from the American school curriculum early in the 20th century because teachers, not students, found it too difficult to understand.  “Bring formal grammar back to the classroom,” she predicted, “and you’ll have angry mobs of teachers overturning cars in the parking lot and torching them.” 

    To underscore how un-American grammar really is, Spellings reminded her audience that when Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez waved a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax in a recent United Nations speech protesting American Middle East policy, the very next day the 1965 grammar book shot to the top of the charts at Amazon.com.  “Those grammarians hate freedom,” she concluded.

    Nonetheless Bob Gates, who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense because Rumsfeld had trouble expressing himself, and who is so opposed to French ideas that he only eats freedom fries, thinks that grammar could become an important new weapon in the War on Terror: “Just make those insurgents diagram some sentences,” Gates told the senators at his confirmation hearing, “and they’ll will throw down their guns and throw up their hands.” 

    Hugo Chavez at the UN 

    Hugo Chavez recommending a book on transformational grammar to U.N. delegates, September 20, 2006 

    Grammar is one suggestion about how to get the Iraq War back on track that President George W. Bush says he can get behind.  After all, he chided Secretary Spellings at a recent cabinet meeting, those French rioters were mostly Muslim, weren’t they?  “They write from right to left over there,” he added. “Did you know that?”   Even Tony Blair reluctantly admitted that the French might be on to something:  “Give the enemy a good dose of grammar,” he told a BBC interviewer, “and they’ll go right to sleep." 

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