Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith an exchange about political correctness pedagogy and language

an exchange about political correctness, pedagogy, and LANGUAGE


A reader of a post of mine from the day before yesterday

“Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble”

Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble

sent me an email.


His response was complimentary. However, he did critique a few assertions I made, namely, the following:

I love studying grammar and cannot understand why modern day self-appointed language “experts,” as they style themselves, want to or simplify, essentially emasculate — in the name of political correctness or conforming to their misguided, benighted theories of how language and English composition should be taught — language instruction.

[Addendum] The 1960’s, a learned friend of mine once opined, was the Golden Era of American education. I would not dispute this. I experienced it in English and history courses, in foreign language courses, and in mathematics instruction. To get an idea of how low conceptions of foreign language pedagogy have sunk since Alexander Lipson’s time, one might take a look at the following article: “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” by Carmel McCoubrey, op-ed, The New York Times, November 16, 2017



The respondent to my post, a high school Latin teacher, wrote:

As one teaching a language today I do take issue with a couple of your assertions:

— to say the sixties was a Golden Era in American education is to assume it is now in a period of decline. Surely it is under assault (by the current administration, for starters), and educators have much to learn from successful models elsewhere (take Finland, for example). But there are many noteworthy successes that combine the best of traditional approaches with effective innovation.

— in the New York Times article to which you refer the teachers who ask for change on both philological and philosophical grounds raise important issues. To dismiss them as PC police with misguided and benighted theories is a straw-man argument. I, for example, will inform my students that 99 Roman women and one Roman man would normally be referred to as Romani, masculine gender. That is the fact. But this then invites a discussion of how ancient Roman society was patriarchal, as revealed in so many ways in their language, and what are issues with patriarchy then and today. The word virtus or “virtue” in ancient Rome meant manliness (vir = man) as shown, for example, in bravery in battle. In Victorian England virtue probably most often referred to a woman’s chastity. Gender as it pertains to language and grammar is a legitimate issue in constant need of review and revision, so while I might not agree with every position taken by the French women [discussed in the New York Times article], I respect what they are doing.



I responded by email as follows:

I guess we have to agree to disagree.

I do appreciate that you read my blog post and took the time to respond and critique it.

I respect your opinions and how you present them.

My view is that

— critiquing current trends such as political correctness does not necessarily imply faulty thinking or a straw man

— languages and their grammars are organic — the product of a long evolution — and should not be messed with

— educational standards have declined out of a zeal to make the curriculum “inclusive” and palatable to all … you can see it in English and writing classes, math, social studies, etc.

I realize that you are a foreign language teacher with impressive academic credentials. It seems that you have surpassed me in the study of foreign languages and knowledge of linguistics.

Still, if it’s “la table” in French and “el mano” in Spanish and the “collective pronoun” in French for they is “ils,” masculine, I think things should remain that way and the language police should be shunted aside.

I don’t like change.

Languages have such complicated, intricate grammars. … I have read that this is true of languages of unlettered, supposedly “primitive” civilizations such as the Iroquois family of languages (which I read about in a classic work by Lewis Henry Morgan) … they are exquisite structures that should inspire reverence as the study of plants would.

To mess with languages to me is equivalent to uprooting a stately old oak tree and trying to “treat” it chemically to produce nicer foliage after being replanted.


— Roger W. Smith
  November 20, 2017



See also my post:

“will ‘ladies and gentlemen’ go the way of the dodo?”

will “ladies and gentlemen” go the way of the dodo?