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Classical Christian Movement

The Critical Importance of Grammar

By December 1, 2008January 31st, 2023No Comments

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It is widely believed that we are engaged in a war for our culture. More accurately, we are in the middle of a battle in a war that has been raging since Socrates challenged the sophists. As Christian classical educators, our enemies are the radical relativists. To the radical relativists, there is no law of nature to govern human conduct because there is no such thing as a constant form of human nature.

Radical relativism is the belief that everything we do, think, and even feel arises from the customs and conventions of the group of which we are members. Individuals cannot perceive the way things actually are, because we have been conditioned by our communities to experience things a certain way. We are always wearing glasses, colored by our unavoidable, individual perspectives. There is no universal nature or essence of things, and, even if there is, we can’t know it.

This revolution against objective ideas entered our schools early in the 20th century. Its leader was John Dewey, who watered down the radical relativism of Friederich Nietzsche and called it Progressivism. Dewey’s teachings were widely misunderstood and accepted by those anxious to pretend their schools were founded on scientific principles.

I’ll not mince words: radical relativism is the enemy of humanity and civilized society. Like a colony of termites, it eats away at everything it inhabits. We educators must know what radical relativism is, and we must be prepared to resist it.

How does radical relativism affect grammar? How do convention and custom overthrow nature in the teaching of grammar? Let me turn these questions a little bit: How does a radical relativist determine correct grammar? He argues that correct grammar arises entirely from usage, convention, or custom. This position, however, doesn’t stand up to close observation. Linguists have studied virtually every language group on earth and discovered that there is a universal foundation to every grammar. Grammar is rooted in nature, not in conventions.

What does that mean? Take a close look at human nature by watching yourself think. You can simplify the act by focusing on one thing: say, a fish.

Notice, first, that you cannot think without thinking about something. We call that something the “subject.” Perhaps you saw the fish in your mind. If you did, it had properties (color, shape, etc.), and it was somewhere (in the water, floating on black, etc.). When we think, we always think something about the thing about which we are thinking. We cannot think about a fish without thinking something about the fish. We call that the “predicate” (from pre, about, and dico, I say or tell). We think about subjects when we predicate something about them. All grammar is rooted in this simple notion.

In short, we think this way because it is our nature to think this way. Therefore, the rules of grammar arise from human nature and they help us to know the world we live in. If we allow grammar to degenerate, we diminish our capacity to know and love the world around us, the one over which God has made us stewards.

Furthermore, we live in community. By converting thoughts into sentences, we enable others to think with us, and others enable us to think with them. We are able to communicate. Therefore, if we allow grammar to degenerate, we diminish our capacity to know and love the people around us.

Amazingly, we can also stand outside ourselves and watch ourselves think (like you did above)! We can analyze our thoughts and behavior, holding them up to standards (including the rules of grammar). No other creature can do that. Therefore, if we allow grammar to degenerate, we diminish our capacity to know and love ourselves!

Without doubt, the sentence—that simple skeleton with a head (subject), abdomen (predicate), and many attachable limbs (the other parts of speech)—is one of the wonders of the world. Think of the enormous flexibility, the power to move, and the ability to bless and to curse!

We have been given the capacity to use language (and to teach our students) to bless others through the almost infinite power that words possess when structured on sound grammar.

And when we lose the power to bless, we lose the culture war. No wonder they don’t want us to teach our children grammar.