Today, my youngest son was relaying a story, and said, “Me and my friend were talking…”
I was folding laundry at the time, and, in a typically absently distracted manner, opened my mouth to correct him. Before I could, however, my 18 year old and 13 year old spoke in perfect unison, and with the same matter-of-fact tone that I was about to use.
“My friend and I.” They then glanced at each other in brief acknowledgement, before my son returned his attention to his cellphone, and my daughter carried on playing with her dog.
I had to laugh. I love the English language, and all its complexities, and while I consider myself more of a descriptivist than a prescriptivist, there are some things that simply grate on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Strictly speaking, putting the first person pronoun at the end of a list is more to do with grammar etiquette than any specific grammar rule, but the incorrect choice of pronoun is, quite simply, poor grammar. When in doubt, remove everyone else in the list. It makes it easy to know the correct sentence is ‘I was talking…’ not ‘Me was talking…’
But, does it really matter? The meaning was perfectly clear; my son and his friend were talking. Prescriptivists will argue that grammar rules are practically sacred, and will already be breaking out in an objective sweat that I began this paragraph with a conjunction. Descriptivists will suggest that language is a living beast, and like all living things, evolves over time.
However, there are some really good reasons for at least knowing grammar rules, and these alone are why all children should be taught grammar in school.
Strength in any social setting
Adapting to different social settings is a skill not easily learnt. It takes a certain level of confidence, and confidence often goes hand-in-hand with knowledge. Most children and adults have no problem communicating with their peers, whether using the spoken or written word, or even, in today’s society, ‘text talk’. When children are educated in the correct use of grammar, they can structure their sentences for different audiences, whether it’s giving a presentation, being interviewed for job, or even meeting with the President of the USA, or the Queen of England. To be able to adapt your communication to the relevant audience is a powerful skill for anyone.
Creativity used to be a word most commonly applied to the arts. Today, it’s considered one of the most important skills in the workforce, and many job descriptions use the word ‘innovative’ when describing the perfect applicant. Ten years ago, Google famously employed an 80/20 rule whereby employees were allowed to spend a day a week on more creative and innovative projects. Research has proven time and time again that a good grasp of grammar encourages and promotes creativity in children.
Building strong leaders
This third reason is possibly the most relevant because it incorporates both creativity and social adaptability. Creative children become innovative adults, and when they’re comfortable adapting to any social setting, they become natural leaders. Leaders need to be able to communicate both effectively and correctly, whether using the spoken or written word. When spoken, sentence structure is important, and when written, punctuation can make or break a sentence’s meaning, as Lynne Truss so humorously explains in one of my favorite books, Eats, Shoots and Leaves.
Many argue that teaching grammar in schools is an unnecessary evil no longer relevant in today’s society, and while hammering in the pedantics of grammar may indeed be overkill, a basic understanding should be encouraged if we want future generations to be strong, innovative, and confident.