Book Review – Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers through Innovative Grammar Instruction by Edgar H. Schuster
I read Breaking the Rules (BtR) into the first week of the ISI, and since I doubt others will review it, I think I’ll give it a shout out. After spending a year refusing to read entire academic books (grad school burnout), I broke my professional literature fast by reading BtR cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed it (but I am a grammar fan).
Before I get started on BtR, I need to provide some background. As an English teacher who is fairly conscientious about grammar, I noticed something startling in the YA books I had been reading. Authors don’t always follow the grammatical rules that I know – even the most basic, obvious rules. Even more startling is the fact that clearly their editors are not following these rules either! How are my students supposed to learn correct punctuation if their favorite authors don’t use it correctly? If certain “rules” aren’t followed in real-world writing, what exactly IS important for me to teach?
My teaching demo answered some of these questions; however, Schuster does an excellent job of outlining the rules that actually make a difference in communicating the language of power. Schuster starts with a criticism of traditional grammar instruction, and then goes on to provide teaching activities to cover the grammatical terms that students SHOULD know. He then debunks some “myth rules” that grammar instructors tend to hold to while language is on the move. Of course, he does recognize that certain rules are necessary for students to rise in social power. He provides some information and activities for how to teach these necessary grammatical rules.
This book will improve my instruction in various ways: 1) It answers many of my questions about the state of grammar in contemporary literature and allows me to appreciate it rather than lament it; 2) it allows me to relax some of my grammar stinginess, which can lead to dejected writers rather than language investigators and crafters; and 3) it provides more possibilities for teaching grammar in strength-based, mentor-text formats.
I certainly did not agree with everything that Schuster wrote (“If in doubt, leave the comma out” – I think not), and he did not provide as many positive examples of grammar instruction as I would have liked. Thus, I’ll have to rely on teachers/writers like Jeff Anderson and Constance Weaver for these tips. However, I appreciated the analysis of grammatical philosophy. This book allowed me step back from my instruction to look at the bigger picture of grammar instruction.