America’s Obsession With Grammar And What It Means

America has a surprising obsession.

Ever since the internet has come about, it seems, and especially since the wide-spread use of Facebook, grammar has suddenly exploded on the scene as a cool new passion.

The class that everyone seemed to hate in middle school has now become cool. Facebook pages like Grammarly have over three hundred thousand likes. The most common way to prove someone you’re arguing with online has now become noticing that they got “your” and “you’re” confused. People bring America’s lack of grammar skills as proof of our declining educational system.

There is some truth to all this, of course. Usually, it’s hard to accept someone’s argument if they don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s”.

But the amount of vitriol reserved for bad grammar and the obsession some people have with pointing out other’s failures in it indicates that something more is going on.

The truth is that grammar isn’t that complicated. It’s a fairly black and white affair. Scientific rather than creative. It’s something that, once learned, is fairly easy to maintain.

That, of course, is why so many people love it and even obsess over it.

Grammar provides comfort. It is a way to easily divide people into camps: smart and stupid; educated and ignorant; wise and foolish. It is a world where you are either right or wrong. There is no gray. You either used “its” possessively or you didn’t.

Ironically, this obsession over grammar is actually the true indicator of why America’s educational system is failing.

America’s educational system is much more focused on facts than on thought. It’s much more interested in shoving concepts down people’s throats and making them all think uniformly than in teaching them how to think for themselves.

Knowing grammar doesn’t mean one is smart. It doesn’t mean that one knows how to think critically. All it means is that a person sat in a class long enough to digest a list of facts.

We can see this in other areas of our society as well. Democrats criticize Republicans for not adhering to the beliefs they’ve memorized. Republicans do the same to Democrats.  Scientifically-minded people attack any religious person for their beliefs if it conflicts at all with the facts they’ve memorized. Religious people criticize the secular world for not following the rules they’ve memorized.

If people thought critically, they would see gray. If people thought independently, they wouldn’t agree with the opinion of the group they happen to belong to every single time they open their mouths. If people thought creatively, they wouldn’t attack others for not accepting what they accept as fact, but would instead try to understand why the other believes what they believe.

All of this is a reflection of the real reason our education system is failing. We are not creating a generation of critical, creative thinkers. People no longer go to college to “learn how to think” as so many liberal arts proponents argue. Instead, we attend school and college to swallow the facts our particular segment of society demands us to swallow, then we join that segment and criticize everyone outside of it.

It’s time that America stopped measuring its success by how many people know grammar, how many people believe in evolution, and how many people think the same way.

Instead we need to focus on encouraging our students and ourselves to think creatively. Arts should be a required emphasis for all, not a forgotten bonus. English should be seen as a creative discipline. The rules should be considered just a backdrop to successful creativity.

Until then, we will only be pundits of our own dogmatic beliefs arguing from memorized facts rather than our own creative and critical minds.





10 responses to “America’s Obsession With Grammar And What It Means”

  1. Eliyahu Otis Avatar

    English and literature is an art
    just the same. One’s clever use of grammatical concepts, or lack thereof, can
    give over an even deeper meaning than a cold, calculated sentence.

    Grammar is not an easily learned
    system; it’s constantly evolving, and there are still arguments in Academia
    about whether it is proper to put a comma after the ‘and’ of a list with more
    than two items. Grammar is about expressing a thought. Just like the oils (and
    the rules of physics to which they adhere) of the paint on a canvas, or the
    musical theory of the chords and notes to a musician, grammar is the system in
    which one can express an idea. The fact that we have raised a generation that
    cannot grasp this system adds to the frustration that they have in losing their
    individuality, and underscores your point. We have had little practice in
    exploring or creating our own thoughts, so we don’t need to know these nuances
    in grammar, and we forget from lack of familiarity. It’s a shame that people
    use the improper use of grammar as a reason to imply one is stupid, but I think
    it’s indicative of the very thing you’re discussing. Because we have not
    fostered creative ways of expressing oneself (including verbally), we have lost
    our critical voice as a people.

    1. Pop Chassid Avatar

      Interesting points, Eli, and I think you’re absolutely correct. Some are losing their individuality in one way, while others are losing it in other ways.

  2. Frum Feminist Avatar
    Frum Feminist

    This would all be wonderful and true if not for the fact that it’s not in the classroom that most people perfect their grammar. It’s in reading. A person who is well-read is usually familiar with good grammar, which means that someone without proper grammar is likely NOT very well-read. The less someone reads, the higher the likelihood that they’re uneducated. So grammar can be a testament to how well educated a person is.

    1. dixiegirl3179 Avatar

      I agree! I may not be perfect, but I’d call myself above average when it comes to grammar and spelling. I don’t often come across words that I can’t spell, and I’ve never struggled in English class (essays don’t scare me!). I completely attribute that to how much I read. I can spell many words because I’ve seen them spelled correctly in print.

  3. Rikki Dunbar Avatar

    Very nice blog. And your paragraph that starts “If people thought critically, they would see gray…” is absolutely brilliant. Thank you!

  4. LVN Avatar

    As much as I would like to fundamentally agree with this article’s core points, there is a correlation between having a grasp of the english language and one’s fundamental ability to communicate creatively. As quoted in your article “Knowing grammar doesn’t mean one is smart. It doesn’t mean that one knows how to think critically. All it means is that a person sat in a class long enough to digest a list of facts”
    Obviously that’s true, and I certainly wouldn’t state otherwise, however, I have seen a dip in the basics and fundamentals that keep the United States competitive globally. Also, there seems to exist, a prideful ignorance in our lack of grammar skills emerging here and that also appears to be a somewhat disturbing trend. Frankly, communication in any language is key, grammar is part of that communication in written form.

  5. angelo bonavera Avatar

    I’m a programmer, and I know what it’s like to work with rational languages and English isn’t one of them. It’s more of an art rather than a science. English is learnt through experience and memorization not any consistent rules. Most people that obsess over grammar do so to appear smart. If you are swayed in an argument based on grammar rather than the logic of the discussion, then you’ve fallen for a logical fallacy called an ad hominem.

    The English language is a very political and often vain activity. most people with perfect grammar tend to have rationalization problems. In the programming world, no one cares too much how you write your code as long as the problem is solved.


  6. Georjajim Avatar

    Critical thinking and proper grammar are not mutually exclusive. Proper grammar and the understanding of it seem to be pretty important in creating and understanding legal documents, for one example. As any judge would inform us: “Ignorance of the law is not a defense.” Nor, I believe, is ignorance of grammar whether it be written or spoken.

  7. Lydia Gastrell Avatar
    Lydia Gastrell

    I think one of the main points of the article isn’t just the obsession itself, but the fact that it has overrode all manners. People interrupt others to correct their grammar and destroy flowing online conversations because they felt the desperate need to put in their *you’re comment. People use it as a pathetic last ditch effort in arguments they are clearly losing. Saying someone’s argument is wrong because it came with bad grammar makes absolutely no sense. Also, anyone who does a lot of typing knows that our hands sometimes just do what the hell they want. We make bizarre mistakes that have nothing to do with our knowledge of grammar. We all know the difference between “no” and “know”, yet try explaining that to fingers doing 65 wpm. Everyone needs to chill out.

  8. breedlove family Avatar
    breedlove family

    The comments below um I am bad at Grammar but a good reader don’t know why trying to improve but still I hate being poked at for it.

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