By Daniel Strawhun, Opinions Editor
For most of us, the formal study of grammar ended (if it ever truly began) sometime in elementary school; by the time we enter college, only the vaguest memories of grammar class—often having something to do with locomotives and conjunctions and crowded cartoon railway yards—still linger in the ancient synapses of childhood. In the absence of rules and certainty, we turn to superstition instead: random capitalization and idiomatic patterns of punctuation proliferate in our college-level writing. Even more pernicious are the things we do remember from our days spent diagramming sentences, which are often incorrect. We cling to false impressions like pieces of driftwood on a stormy sea: “Don’t strand your prepositions,” “Avoid splitting verb phrases,” “Don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction!”—all these misguided bits of advice and more swirl through our foggy minds every time we attempt to compose a piece of formal writing.
For this reason, it seems sensible that the University of Missouri-St. Louis would include Traditional Grammar as a General Education (Gen. Ed.) requirement for all undergraduate students. Doing so would refresh and crystallize students’ understanding of the mechanics of the English language—the language in which nearly every class at UMSL is taught.
Instead, UMSL’s Gen. Ed. requirements place an emphasis on composition—something that should really only come AFTER students have taken the Traditional Grammar course. Requiring students to complete formal writing assignments without first requiring that they learn the comprehensive rules that govern formal writing is analogous to asking engineering students to design bridges without first requiring that they complete a physics course. In both cases, such an illogical, disorganized approach can only yield mediocrity at best. The rules of grammar dictate sentence composition just as the laws of physics dictate bridge design.
As it stands, Traditional Grammar is only a required course for English majors, which seems odd since all classes for all majors at UMSL are taught in English (excluding foreign languages, of course). Furthermore, most students are required to complete a math course in order to receive their baccalaureate. While the study of mathematics certainly has its place in the context a well-rounded, liberal arts education, I would argue that the study of grammar is at least as important as mathematics, given that language is the unavoidable medium in which we encode information and through which we communicate. To be truly well-rounded, all students should study both math and grammar.