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The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Dr. Candice Meyer, The Davidson Center

The advancement of technology has provided us with amazing supports for writing,
such as grammar and spell checkers. One might think that the days of teaching English
grammar and spelling are over, but nothing could be further from the truth. Today,
emails and texts are the modes for business and personal communication in our fast-
paced world. The slow traditional method of conveying information through letters has
been dubbed “snail mail.” As envelopes fade into the past, so do secretaries, whose
responsibilities included taking dictation and revising final drafts for their supervisors.
Generally speaking, composing and editing messages are now the sole responsibility of
the author, and grammar and spell checkers cannot read a person’s mind.
A grammar checker finds errors in sentence structure, word usage and punctuation;
however, it cannot create sentences that express an individual’s insights or explain
aspects of particular fields, especially in science and business. A spell checker can
catch errors and even suggest alternate words, but figuring out the best choice is still up
to the writer. And, the autocorrect feature on texting apps is so notoriously unreliable
that there are websites dedicated to highlighting the oftentimes absurd “corrections” it
makes. So, it is evident that educators need to continue teaching grammar and spelling
skills, but unfortunately most schools are falling short of providing what our students
need.
The majority of high school students, including those in honors and advanced English
classes, cannot identify an adjective, adverb or preposition. Many cannot recognize
even the basic parts of speech, such as a noun, pronoun or verb. It is not the students’
fault—in far too many cases, the skills have never been taught or have merely been
given a cursory review. This educational negligence is regrettable for several reasons.
Knowledge of English grammar constitutes one-fourth of the SAT and ACT tests.
Understanding sentence structure automatically improves reading comprehension,
which is another fourth of the content in both tests. Therefore, establishing a solid
foundation of English grammar, spelling and reading comprehension enhances a
student’s performance on college entrance exams which factors into today’s highly
competitive acceptance standards. Further, people in business represent their company
or organization to the clients. They are required to convey their thoughts effectively and
efficiently; therefore, they cannot ponder over sentence structures and spelling options
for words in every sentence. Their interaction through the written word needs to be an
asset, not a liability.
Ideally, grammar and spell checkers are only secondary resources used to self-edit
before submitting essays and sending communications. Skills taught in the past are still
relevant today. Having a command of the English language is a life skill for success in
school, college and beyond.