As we discuss errors and usage each semester, you get to hear a certain perspective from me and from the readings I choose to have you peruse. That perspective is presented honestly, I hope you’ll agree, but it is a bit removed from real teachers in real classrooms. And sometimes I worry that you leave my class thinking that the issue of error and how it’s treated in classrooms is largely a settled thing.
Far from it, and I hope these other resources might show you. I subscribe to the NCTE Connected Community and recently have seen two threads that are germane to our discussions in class, one of the use of “they” as a generic, singular pronoun replacement for the gendered “he” and “she” pronouns we have, and a second thread on the use of the first-person pronoun “I” in students’ writing. (You may not be able to access these threads without first creating an account.) Both have generated far more activity than threads in this forum typically do, and the thread on the use of “they” is a particularly colorful one.
As you peruse both threads, you can see a more nuanced and varied set of perspectives on the interconnected issues of error (or perceived error), the rules, and how we respond to (and teach) students writing. I encourage you to consider how you situate yourself after looking over these threads and our class discussions. But I want to highlight one post in particular:
I’m a middle school English teacher, I teach five paragraph essays and all that entails, and have the utmost respect for high school and college writing teachers who “undo” what I have taught them. I have no problem with that. It is as it should be.
I “undo” the rules that my students learned before eighth grade. For example, I unteach never starting a sentence with “because” once my students understand adverb clauses. I undo the rule of always using a comma before a ‘fanboy’ once we study compound sentences and sentence length. I don’t insist the thesis statement be first. And I don’t need a summary of the body in the introductory paragraph.
What strikes me here is how this teacher considers her own efforts within the context of those made by other teachers; she recognizes that her students have previous experience (some of which she feels a need to “unteach”) and she recognizes that, as her students move on in their schooling, they will be exposed to different and (perhaps) more sophisticated expectations. I think we’d all do well to heed her example and recognize that, while perhaps beginning a sentence with because bothers us to no end, it may not bother all audiences and thus should not be something we teach as an unquestioned rule to which there are no exceptions. In fact, as with many so-called “errors” or “rules,” perhaps we ought to instead teach this as an “option” or a consideration students should address when they write, all as part of their considering the rhetorical situation.