Verbs are like cats.

Everyone who has taken pro­fessor of edu­cation Daniel Coupland’s English Grammar course remembers the “verbs are like cats” lecture. In com­paring the unpre­dictable — and, some­times, coun­ter­in­tu­itive — behavior of his two cats, Angel and Blackard, to that of verbs, he pre­pares the stu­dents for weeks of mental pain as they trudge their way through one of the language’s most used parts of speech.

For the hun­dreds of Hillsdale College stu­dents who have not taken Coupland’s class, however, the entire English lan­guage can feel like a cat. Using the sub­junctive action or the impos­si­bility of having a “second favorite” throws off people who have spoken English all their lives. In fact, since the Pro­gres­sives rearranged the public edu­cation system in the beginning of the 20th century, empha­sizing tech­nical learning instead of the liberal arts, Amer­icans have been left in the dark about their own lan­guage. Like the spelling readers buried in the back of your grand­parents’ parents’ attic, American grammar has yel­lowed since it was retired from the classroom.

Hillsdale College should lead the charge to return grammar to higher edu­cation class­rooms and restructure the core to include an English grammar class. Grammar does more than just explain the rules of our lan­guage — it helps writers under­stand the power of their words, and how the placement of dif­ferent words changes the essence of what they’re writing.

Stu­dents majoring outside the human­ities who struggle with writing papers for their Great Books or Con­sti­tution classes would gain much from the grammar course. Perhaps many freshmen fall victim to Hillsdale’s noto­ri­ously rig­orous ‘first paper’ grading scale because they write at the lax level of grammar our country embraced for pro­fessors expecting more than that. Keeping the course as an elective is a dis­service to the stu­dents of the college, who jump through hoops to com­plete less important classes that weigh down the core.

Last semester, Hillsdale required its stu­dents take a class within the seven clas­sical liberal arts for the first time, Logic and Rhetoric. The problem with the class is that English grammar, an instruction on the order of words within sen­tences, is sup­posed to precede logic, an instruction on the order of sen­tences within argu­ments. While the college’s intro­duction of Logic and Rhetoric to the core was a good decision, it makes no sense for a self-respecting liberal arts school to miss the mark on so basic a prin­ciple of the liberal arts.

One road­block to including English grammar in the core is the assumption by Hillsdale admin­is­trators that stu­dents have already taken grammar classes prior to college. Leaders in higher edu­cation often view grammar as ‘remedial,’ like cursive writing or division. On the con­trary, Cou­pland has found that many of his stu­dents’ prior expe­ri­ences with grammar leaves some­thing to be desired. Some stu­dents have had grammar classes before, but those classes came up short, either in the subject material or the length of the class itself. Yet another group only learned that English has a sub­junctive tense and par­ticiples, for example, after learning the grammar of foreign lan­guages.

This is a major part of the problem: Most high schools and ele­mentary schools do not teach grammar because of the Pro­gressive push for edu­cation men­tioned earlier, and col­leges are afraid of the redun­dancy of teaching it at the sec­ondary level. In 2009, stu­dents at Hillsdale took matters into their own hands and peti­tioned for the addition of a grammar course, resulting in Coupland’s. After two semesters at the 1‑credit level, Hillsdale admin­is­trators pro­moted it to three credits, and, now, Cou­pland has had no trouble filling seats. Just as they were eight years ago, stu­dents today are unsat­isfied with their remedial under­standing of such a crucial part of com­mu­ni­cation.

Since Hillsdale attracts many stu­dents whose primary edu­cation empha­sized the liberal arts, the redun­dancy may be more of a problem here than at other col­leges. One way of solving this problem is by treating English grammar like any other lan­guage course and offering an entrance exam. That way, the college could best address the defi­cient approach to grammar in primary edu­cation.

The core is too big, but English grammar is too big a course to leave out. During its next meeting, the aca­demic admin­is­tration should seri­ously con­sider amending the core. The college will be better for it, and Hillsdale will be a pioneer in yet another critical movement: reviving an obser­vance of proper English grammar.
Mr. DeVoe is a senior studying pol­itics and jour­nalism.