Views on English grammar are as numerous as the rules they comment on. Lynne Truss of Eats Shoots and Leaves sees it as a system vital to clarify meaning in a writing-based culture. Christian Lander of the blog Stuff White People Like jokingly explains it as a system of arbitrary rules that people use to judge others. Normally, these differing views clash in the form of simple jokes about inferiority complexes, or in hard-core Facebook groups. At UTM though, faculty views on grammar, writing and pedagogy can have academic consequences, and in the Fine Art History program, students and faculty sometimes clash over these issues.
The Fine Art History program uses a penalization system where students in their second or third year can lose up to 25% of their paper grades based on grammatical errors. Since the majority of FAH students grades come from papers, proper grammar aint no laughing matter. Though the initiative means the sought-after perfect-grade paper can become an average one and an average paper can become a fail paper, students can regain lost marks by taking grammar workshops at the academic skills centre, run by Dr. Tyler Tokaryk. To FAH Professor Alison Syme, the initiative is a necessity. This is all about a failure of the high school system. Most students come in with no knowledge of grammar and come in with serious writing problems, which causes problems when they need to read critically.
At first, we were just trying to overcome this overwhelming problem, said Syme. Weve been refining the system every year. At first, students in first year courses could lose up to 25% on grammatical errors, with second and third years able to lose up to 40%. Now, first year students attend grammar tutorials, and the maximum that third and second year students can lose is 25%, Students taking fourth year courses are not penalized at all. Fine Art students can also easily regain the marks by attending lectures and taking simple grammatical quizzes, which, according to Syme, many students do, valuing the grammar initiative for the skills they learn.
Some students do not agree with this assessment, saying that their mark deductions are too extreme and that the make-up tests do not reflect real learning.
Most students attend the workshops simply to regain points, said VG, a third year English and Fine Art History major, and no one really takes anything from the classes. The program is unnecessary and the time spent in workshops takes away from valuable time needed to complete assignments.
Other students claimed the judgement is too extreme: the graders exploit needless, obscure uses of punctuation to deduct grades, penalize correctly spelled but strange-looking artistic words (Syme ensures that this no longer occurs) and receive more scrutiny than students in other fields, such as English. Albert Dalton, who saw the CVMC arrive in his third year, eventually found it beneficial to his writing.
Through constant vigilance, the quality of my writing elevated. I personally cant recall ever losing a greater amount than 9% on any single assignment. He noticed that other students did not fare as well. I inevitably empathized with their frustrations, but I never once felt they were unfairly or unjustly treated. Their writing simply didnt communicate effective understanding. Dalton added that he earned his current employment due in part to the skills the initiative allowed to acquire.
Perhaps if the initiative was based on a genuine lack of coherent thought, then perhaps less students would find fault with it. Some students believe, however, that a disjunct exists between what professors and what graders view as grammatical.
I found it frustrating that my professors had very little difficulty understanding my papers and deemed my papers to be legible, coherent and to be of higher than average standing, and yet the grammar nazis believed I was inept with the English language, said student Andrea Hitchman.
Farrukh Rafiq acknowledged that the graders were sometimes to harsh, but also saw the value of forcing students to learn. What percent of the procrastinating majority will devote their free time to improve their writing? If youre serious about pursuing Art History, then you wont mind getting some extra help to improve the way you present your arguments.
Whatever the case, the conflict between the supporters and decriers seems to begin and end with the beliefs of what grammar is, and how to teach it. Grammar is a system of communication, and while vital to a writing culture, should be based on accurate transmission of thought and not which variations of the Oxford comma students adhere to. Although everyone seems to believe this, the difference is how this belief is applied. Hopefully, these different camps can work together to find a mutually satisfying situation.