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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Mulroy, David: The War Against Grammar

  Amazon  

In pellucid prose, author David Mulroy, a classicist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, discusses the deleterious effect that a decades-long avoidance of formal instruction in grammar has had on American students: SAT scores are down; reading comprehension has declined; enrollment in most foreign languages has dropped; and students suffer in general from a "higher illiteracy." While students can, that is--some of them, at least--express themselves adequately, they are not proficient at explicating the literal meanings of grammatically complex texts. Asked to paraphrase the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, for example, one of the author's students writes: "It doesn't matter where you came from. In the end we are all human beings. Humans are at the top of the food chain, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't respect nature. Because we have one earth, learn to preserve it."

The purpose of grammar, Mulroy explains, is twofold: "It preserves and perfects understanding of the great literature of the past, and it contributes to eloquent self-expression." He argues persuasively for a return to a concentration on formal grammatical instruction in schools, not out of some school-marmish obsession with sentence-ending prepositions or the like, but because grammar is a foundation for further understanding: "Intellectuals work with words. Questioning the value of basic grammar is like asking whether farmers should know the names of their crops and animals." He points out, too, what most of us probably take for granted, that the world benefits enormously from the existence of a standard English, which grammatical instruction helps maintain: speakers of English across the globe can communicate with one another easily, which was not true of English speakers mere villages apart in the medieval period.

Mulroy hits on a number of topics in his short book, among them the ancient liberal arts curriculum, the history of the classification of words into eight basic categories, educational practices in the middle ages, and progressive education. Happily, he also includes a section on sentence diagramming. This allowed me to pass a pleasant half hour diagramming sentences with my eight-year-old: intrigued by the game at first, she came to think me unusual in my interests, and facetiously suggested we try subtracting for pleasure next. She may mock, but then she's not likely to wind up thinking the Declaration of Independence was an early-American plea for nature preserves.

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