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Re: [xmca] new national curriculum in Australia: grammar as logic

Yes! Thank you so much for this, Helen. This is new material to me. Yes, this is quite an effort, and has many progressive ideas. I did not know about the Plain English Campaign or its offshoots - like the extensive work on this union site. Bravo for this union effort. If there is any group that could use some positive help in writing, it's government workers!

The following link from the site is a short course - gives a feel for content and types of writing exercises. The central focus is getting the **writer** to think concretely about the **reader**. An excellent methodology, in my opinion. (As opposed to just communicating "properly" and in "good English" and according to "rules"). This seems to me like very good material for a writing-and-grammar type course. And now I have a much more specific question than before: do any school programs consciously use this "Plain Train" -style approach? One would thing some would.


And thank you, Rod. Similar ideas to those on Helen's site, and some contrasts. The UK site seems to employ more of a rule-oriented than writing-for-the-reader approach. Has a different audience and target than the public employees union site, which is aimed at workers. The UK sites targets governments, government agencies, corporations, and things like international medical language standards. The UK group, started in 1979, appears to be the first of a number of Plain English Language groups in the English-speaking world.

An amusing aside: this is from an interesting article on "teenglish" - teen slang - in one of their magazine articles. If there was any group out to undermine those trying to standardize a language, it's teens! And especially, working class teens. LOL


So, if a teenager said the following to you, would you
be flattered or offended?

“You’re chung and shabby, wanna cotch down my

You should be flattered, as that actually means: “You
are extremely sexy and cool, do you want to go and
hang out at my house?”

Here is an example of the kinds of rules the UK site presents for writing Plain English (some of which I find a little one-sided and possibly misleading, and others which I need to do a better job at incorporating into my own writing!):

The main page on the UK site at
indeed does has a 'gobbledygook' generator - putting random business jargon into sentences. "Blue sky thinking" is a new one for me. (I'm still
trying to "think outside the box.")

It also has a basic 20-question grammar quiz some might enjoy while they think about what kinds of grammar ought to be taught in the public schools. How much of that stuff do you actually remember and use? (More than we may consciously realize, in my opinion - which kind of refers back to the points about the role of scientific concepts in relation to our general thinking processes that Andy is bringing up).

- Steve

On Mar 2, 2010, at 6:20 AM, Worthen, Helena Harlow wrote:

To follow up on Steve's message, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has a remarkable program called "Clear Language"


Which is about getting contract language out of jargon into clear language. There are examples on line at the website above which show the difference between familiar brain-buster jargon and clear language.

Just think about what it must have taken to get this effort going, supported and sustained!


Helena Worthen
Clinical Associate Professor
Labor Education Program University of Illinois
504 East Armory, Champaign, IL 61820

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca- bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Steve Gabosch
Sent: Tuesday, March 02, 2010 12:23 AM
To: Activity eXtended Mind Culture
Subject: Re: [xmca] new national curriculum in Australia: grammar as logic

I have a question for those that follow teaching systems for grammar
that is based on some of my own experience with grammar working in a
factory.  An odd place to learn something about working with grammar,
but very interesting.  Here are some of the things I think I learned.

My take on grammar for first language speakers would be to shrug off
most (but not all) of the parsing, often irrelevant categories and
terminology, and all that boring minutia - and focus on teaching
people how to learn how to use **consistent** grammar rules and skills
to write, speak, and think, clearly and logically.

It doesn't have to be the Queen's grammar, just consistent grammar.
For example, I understand that Black English can be just as
grammatically consistent as standard English can be.  As I understand
it, this is true for many or probably all minority versions of any
majority tongue. Grammar problems - using one rule one time and
another rule another - can frequently mask vagueness, self-
contradiction, disagreement, unclarity, uncertainly, etc.  And not
infrequently, when this happens, this is not an accident!  In other
words, grammar problems are not fundamentally about ignorance or lack
of education.  Being vague and ambiguous is a coping skill used by
many, including people in the working classes and other marginalized
sections of society.  Not to mention, of course, it is also used by
certain kinds of politicians and many others in places where such
skills are rewarded.  It is a mark of the more confident sectors of
society to use consistent grammar - and, not infrequently, the mark of
those feeling a little defiant of these sectors to do otherwise.  It
can also be a way of speaking "code" to some people while not being
fully understood or even being purposely dismissed by others.  Grammar
usage styles and problems, in other words, can be quite political.  I
saw this in the factory all the time.  You can see it anywhere, and
especially where people with opposing class interests are
interacting.  Ain't it the truth?

In this view I am suggesting, skill-building in grammar could revolve
around learning ways to read and hear one's own writing and speaking -
and that of others - in terms of logic and clarity.  It becomes a
process of editing for clear and intentional meanings and watching for
grammar problems that can confound those intentions and that clarity.
This means providing challenges where students are coaxed into wanting
to speak and write clearly, thereby becoming motivated to use grammar
consistently and skillfully when they want to be fully heard.  (And
that may be easier said than done!  And is perhaps the Achilles Heel
of this idea.)  This approach would also include teaching teachers
about grammar styles and usage that can indeed be consistent - but are
just not "standard."  That is a major issue working people face when
it comes to grammar - they come from many, many cultures and sub-
cultures, and many teachers and programs literally trample on people's
ways of thinking and speaking, which includes how they use grammar.
If the new grammar movement, like the English-only movement, aims at
continuing this trampling, it is a reactionary maneuver.

I'd be interested if there is a place where grammar is taught the way
I am describing - not as about speaking "correctly," but as being
consistent about rule-use for the purpose of removing ambiguity and
creating clarity.  Not about definitions of parts of speech, but about
the logic and meanings of sentences and paragraphs.

Some of what I am reflecting here comes from years of working with
fellow factory workers helping to produce complex documents on things
like how to explain to others (new workers, workers transferring in,
etc.) how to do aspects of our jobs.  I did a number of projects like
that over the years.  I noticed over and over that forcing the issue
of consistent grammar often drove out uncertainties in the
information, revealing deeper issues, and moving us closer and closer
to more clarity and better logic.  Putting the idea in factory lingo,
if the grammar and writing were not yet excellent, there was usually
some hidden B.S. still in there.

The idea is not that consistent grammar is about **how** you should
speak or **what** you should say, but that truly saying and writing
**what you precisely mean** requires using consistent grammar.
(Assuming you *want* to "precisely mean" something, of course!)

So back to my question.  Has anyone run across this concept of
teaching grammar?  This seems to me to be something every English (or
any language) teacher in one way or another teaches, each in their own
way.   But has anyone turned this approach into a method for teaching
grammar? Or am I generalizing too much from my individual experience?

- Steve

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