Grammar Matters

grammarI can’t tell you how many times somebody has stopped me on campus recently and asked “David, what’s so important about grammar?” I could tell you, but then, that would make this a math question, and I’m writing about grammar.

It’s pretty clear that students today have little understanding of even the basics of grammar. Probably not one in ten could explain the distinction between the alluvial tense and the parsimonious mood. And probably not one in a hundred could back it up with action. I suspect not one in a thousand could explain when the avuncular distributive is appropriate and when it is not. Correct: “Yes you may buy me a cup of coffee.” Incorrect: “No, I don’t want any of that hazelnut flavored dreck.” And neither of these is to be confused with the alveolar fricative, which is an entirely different thing.
I think.

Herewith follows a brief but basic grammar lesson. Learn these fundamentals and you will be able to impress your neighbors, those with whom you talk grammar at least, the guy at Starbucks over there in the corner muttering to himself, or, in the summer, the 16 year old lifeguard at your pool. So let’s begin with


There are two types of verbs: active verbs and passive verbs. Active verbs are the ones needed to form committees. Passive verbs are the ones needed by the committee once the committee is formed. “I think the first thing we need to do is establish our committee’s charge” is a sentence with a passive verb. “We should probably develop a sub-committee to do that” includes another active verb. From here on, all verbs used by the committee or the sub-committee will be passive ones. Until another sub-committee of the sub-committee needs be formed.

Some of the most common verbs are called verbs of declension, verbs that can be declined, such as “no way,” “uh-uh,” “not a chance,” and “none for me, thanks.”

Though it has not always been true, most nouns these days can be declined as well, as in the sentence “get that tofu away from me,” or “no vegan cookies for me, thanks. They taste like cardboard.” Which brings us to


With the rise of Amazon and delivery drones and our ability to buy anything at any moment and have it delivered anywhere, nouns are playing a more and more important role in our speech, lives, and language patterns, so a clear understanding of the four noun cases is critical.

Nouns, rather than appearing in mood and tense – tense moods depending on your PSA score – can appear in a variety of cases

  • Nominative case, used primarily when speaking in large convention halls
  • Dative case, used before proms and only with the listener’s consent
  • Accusative case, used between parents and children
  • Genitive case, which modesty prevents me from describing, though if you must know send me your cell number and I will text you.

There is much more to grammar than just these basics, termed by us English teachers “the basics.” Notice the proposition “us” in the previous sentence. Propositions matter too, but this is enough for today.

Winter Has Begun

mmr_7003_smIt’s official; winter has indeed begun. Not because we have passed the winter solstice. Not because Christmas has passed, the New Year has been Rung In. Not because the playoffs are here but my Bears aren’t. Again. Not even because classes are gearing up for exams, some at least.

Nope, it’s official because today I heard in class the first mention of a snow day. The Official Snow Day schedule was sent out, we were reminded of what we are to do in the event of a two-hour delayed opening, and reminded that with our new L-M-S (more on that later) we have abilities to handle these days we did not have in the past. Now, never mind that all the weather reports I heard were talking about a “possible dusting of snow, in some places accumulating up to an inch.” Granted, that has been at times enough to send the county school grinding, well, sliding, to a halt. True, just for a couple of hours, but please!

But that’s not really what I want to talk about; what I want to talk about is our New LMS! For those uninitiated into current edu-speak, that’s a Learning Management System. We here at SSFS are now Managing Learning in an up-to-date, education-for-the- 21st century way. And what this has to do with snow days is this: we teachers now have the ability from home to make assignments, monitor those assignments students are completing from their snowed-in
cottages, collect those assignments, then do it again the next day if the county doesn’t get to all those up county roads. And not only can we do these things, we are going to be expected to do these things. And that’s a shame.

Those who know me may be surprised to hear that I am a firm believer, a staunch supporter of students’ right to snow days.

Trust me here, this is not my backhanded way to get myself a day off. I usually end up working anyway. I just remember that as a high school student there was not much better than that serendipitous “Cook County schools are closed today.” (Not that it happened a lot in Cook County. But sometimes.) Just like found money is easier to spend than earned money, more easy to waste on something foolish, so too is found free time better than just about anything. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Just because I can assign work while students are home doesn’t mean I should. Or will.

I’m getting so tired of hearing about all the stress our students are supposedly under. Well, who is responsible for that stress? We are, I can’t do much about the college nonsense, or the SAT nonsense, or the “pad your resume” nonsense. But I can do something about giving my classes a freebie when the Snow Gods so decree.


Despair, Hope, and Education in the Anthropocene

2016 Holiday Assembly Remarks

For the Holiday Season

Upper School Highlights from November 2016

Me and Aretha, We Know

What, Me Worry?

A Post-Election Message from Tom Gibian

Upper School Highlights From October 2016