aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

What read you, my Lord? Words, words, words.

I read an article recently on the state of college English studies. It began with the observation that in previous days, English had been a serious pursuit pretending to be a frivolous one; however, it has become a frivolous pursuit pretending to be a serious one. Which is to say that once upon a time, the study of English (and especially, literature) was seen as the ultimate in non-essential, even merely ornamental, knowledge, but by forcing us to encounter the most important ideas, often in their best expression, it gave us something that the mere pursuit of our daily bread could not. Contrast this to the state of English today, where the endless rant of footling ideologies proclaims its own self-importance over and over, adding nothing much of value to anyone's experience of life.

And beyond the study of literature, the study of the English language seems to me to be a thing ill-done at every level. Nobody seems to teach much grammar any more, and what little they do teach attempts to portray English as something other than what it is. English is taught to English-speakers in terms unlike any other language we teach. Not only that, but it is taught as if it were a computer language or an exercise in symbolic logic rather than a living speech -- but you cannot understand English properly if you have no sense of its history.

My own major in English was, I confess, merely a stepping stone to other things, but I have retained an interest in English and how it is taught. I have continued to read and learn over the years, particularly in my ability to read Old English and Middle English and in my understanding of the evolution of the language. I thought then, and think now, that my formal education in English was sadly incomplete, yet what I got was more than is available to students of English today.

In any case, I keep toying with the idea of writing an English textbook, perhaps a grammar for secondary students. I don't really have time for this, especially since my actual professional field also cries out for other things that could use my attention, but it won't go away. Given the state of English studies -- particularly, the politics of English education -- I have no hope of ever having such a textbook adopted anywhere, yet it keeps nagging at me. An increasing number of jottings and sketched outlines is accumulating on my hard drive, alas.

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