Revised (slightly) on 2/15/03
KISS Grammar (You'll Love It) 

Comments on the Rejection Letter and Reviewers' Comments

     Warning! My comments in this document are often extremely sarcastic. (Some will say insultingly so.) A major reason for rejecting the manuscript, given by the editor and by several of the reviewers, was the "tone" of the book, especially of the first part. Four of the readers ( #1, #3 , #4, and #5) complained about the title KISS -- Keep It Simple Stupid. They considered the title to be  insulting. (Reviewer # 4 even wants to "eradicate" "stupid" from the language!) That reaction is particularly interesting in light of a recent issue of English Journal (Jan. 03), where we can find a teacher, recommending an activity for teaching grammar, stating, "With the mantra of KISS carefully implanted in each student's mind ...." (28) Apparently, within NCTE, it is perfectly acceptable to implant in students' minds that they are stupid, but Heaven Forbid that we suggest it of ourselves.
     The readers of the manuscript who did not like its tone will be really upset by the tone of this document. There are numerous references to stupidity. Reviewer # 4 may want to eradicate the word, but she(?) cannot eradicate what it stands for. As a long-time veteran of the grammar debates, I have had to live with numerous suggestions that those of us who advocate teaching grammar are ignorant and stupid. In 1983, Ken Donelson, then the editor of English Journal, even stated that teaching the parts of speech is "bull shit." Now I am being told that "KISS" is insulting? Give me a break!
     Note that you have been warned. If you do not want to read the word "stupid," don't read any further. On the other hand, if you want to see some examples of stupidity, then please continue.

      Putting one's rejection letter and the reviews that caused it on the web is probably unheard of, but the reviews are blind (no names), and I have omitted the editor's name. Since these reviews have no commercial value, and since they were sent to me, I can see no reason for not putting them here, especially since they clearly demonstrate not only some of the problems involved in the teaching of grammar in our schools, but also the part that NCTE plays in those problems. I'll begin with some general questions and comments made by more than one reviewer. The last part contains brief comments about each specific review.

Some Background

     First I should note that I myself do not consider the KISS manuscript to be a very good one.  I was invited, by an editor at NCTE, to write it. Having submitted Teaching Grammar as a Liberating Art to NCTE twenty years previously, I was almost certain that NCTE would not publish a truly comprehensive book on the question of grammar. The editor promised that he would work with me to get a publishable manuscript. We were doing fairly well until half-way through the project, when it was turned over to another, much less sympathetic editor. At that point, it became a matter of let's get it done (read finished, submitted to reviewers, and rejected).
     One of the earliest problems to arise was the question of length. Being very familiar with the material, I soon had a 300+ page manuscript ready. I would have loved to expand it with more examples, examples which are called for by three of the final reviewers. The push, however, was to make the manuscript shorter. Thus the examples, use of color, bulleted lists, etc. which some of the reviewers called for were, in effect, proscribed by the editor's desire for a shorter book. Throughout this process, I regularly thought of a short story called "Phenx" by the Soviet writer Andrei Sinyavski. Written during the height of Communist oppression, the story describes a tree-like life form from another planet. In order to survive, it has to compress its limbs within a suit and tie. This KISS manuscript presents a very Phenx-like view of KISS grammar. I am not proud of the manuscript.

The Editor and the Selection of Readers as a Reflection of NCTE's Problem

      The (final) editor rejected the manuscript because of "serious concerns about tone, methodology, and audience."  That raises several questions, especially since most of the comments about "tone" relate to Part I, and especially Chapter Two, the critique of NCTE's highly questionable, and seriously damaging role in research about the teaching of grammar. For over forty years, NCTE waged a very effective campaign against the teaching of grammar based on research, which, if it had been done correctly, would have proven almost the exact opposite. Not a single reviewer challenges or in any way attempts to defend that research. Yet, near the conclusion of that chapter, when I refer to stopping the "nonsense," reviewer # 1 states, "This
statement stopped my reading. I find the tone really condescending. What is the nonsense to which the author refers? How has the KISS approach been supported thus far?"  If you look at the context, you will see that, after showing the flaws in the research against the teaching of grammar, I discuss several studies, by Faigley and Obenchaine, among others, that show that grammar can be very effective if there is a KISS-like focus on a few constructions. That is support for the KISS approach. "Nonsense," as the text goes on to suggest, is the fact that "all of the research is open to very serious questions." The nonsense is the constant need to bow to the unusually undocumented, and thus unidentifiable "research." (See the Jan. 2003 issue of English Journal for numerous examples.) What is particularly interesting, to me, is that there is not a peep about the quality of the research against teaching grammar.
       I really do not enjoy criticizing these reviewers (or the research). It gives me an upset stomach and disturbs my sleep. I would much rather be working on the KISS Grammar Workbooks, but the workbooks, to be effective, need to be known, and NCTE's campaign against grammar stands in the way. (I would give up the KISS Workbooks and the entire question, except that I see the resulting pathetic instruction in grammar as seriously hurting millions of children in our schools.)
In addition, the reviewers' problems may not be their own fault. A major part of the problem is the quality of NCTE publications. In a phone conversation about the manuscript, the editor informed me that the book had to present "theory lite." If reviewer # 1 wants to find a tone that is "really condescending," I would suggest that this is it. [This comment also puts an interesting perspective on the comments of reviewer #4, who claims to read a lot of theory. Hopefully, it is not just in books published by NCTE.]
     Theory "lite" also relates to the question of audience. Can readers of NCTE's books, nourished on "theory lite," come to terms with a serious attempt to relate theory and research to the teaching of grammar? Again, I don't want to suggest that this Phenx manuscript does the best possible job, and I also do not want to keep picking on individual reviewers. Thus, I'll simply ask readers to keep this in mind as they read the reviews. Among other things, note the reactions to "KISS." In the Introduction, I clearly state what I mean by it -- "I call it KISS Grammar, for 'Keep It Simple, Stupid.'  (By 'stupid,' what I had in mind was our tendency to throw massive amounts of often inconsistent grammatical terminology at students.)" Yet almost every reviewer either takes it as a personal attack, or is worried that other NCTE readers will do so. Are NCTE readers really that lacking in self-esteem? Are they not aware that Clinton, no matter what one thinks of him or his politics, gained the Presidency by keeping a motto in front of him -- "It's the economy, stupid." In defense of most English teachers, I would like to note a message I remember from the NCTE-Talk list server. It was a complaint that only about 15% of English teachers read the professional literature. Could it be that the other 85% ignore it because they would prefer something with more weight?
     The other major objection to the book was "methodology." This apparently applies to the instructional methodology of the KISS Approach, and here again "theory lite" comes into play. Chapter One explains why grammarians and linguists will not like the KISS Approach, but, of course, it had to be a Phenx version, both in size and weight. The editor, however, sent the manuscript to reviewer #3 who tries to bring heavy guns against the theory and methodology from a linguistic point of view. I have a lot more to say about review # 3 (below), but isn't there something wrong here?  Is the real reason for the rejection of the manuscript its "tone, methodology, and audience"? Or is it that the book shows that NCTE's canonized saints may, in fact, be sinners? [Another thought crossed my mind: NCTE accepts advertising for, among other things, grammar books. The manuscript suggests that these books are useless. Is there a conflict of interest here?]
     I should note another example of my own stupidity. (Some will say stubbornness.) Early in the work with the final editor, I was asked if the book couldn't be shortened. I interpreted this as a suggestion that the book could be limited to theory and research or to the practical aspects of KISS grammar. If I had been smart, I would have asked for clarification. Instead, I simply noted that, given the NCTE resolution against the teaching of grammar not supported by theory and research, I didn't see how the book could be cut that way. The question was thus dropped. If I had been smart, I would have suggested limiting the book to the research and theory. The KISS Approach, after all, is much better presented on the web, where there is plenty of room for examples, exercises, etc., and a fairly good use of color. I wonder what the response would have been? I really do consider that a stupid move on my part (in the real, and not the "KISS" sense). NCTE has, by far, the greatest access to practicing teachers. If it would have (doubtful, but possible) published the book on theory and research, the book would have led a lot of teachers (and administrators) to the KISS web site. Stupid move, Vavra. Stupid move.

      Asked if I wanted to suggest readers for the manuscript, I suggested one. I have since learned that this person wrote review #5, which is by far the most positive of the reviews. I apologize to this reviewer for this response to all the reviews, but the reviewers do remain anonymous, so it should not cause any embarrassment.)
     The interesting thing about the reviewers is an apparent split into two groups. Reviewers 1, 4, and 5 look at the text from the perspective of middle and high school teachers. Reviewers 2 and 3 appear to be teachers of teachers, possibly linguists. (Actually, reviewer # 2 doesn't say much at all, but I'll get to that later.)  As you read their reviews, you'll note that the teachers (1, 4, and 5) regularly note that currently most teachers have almost no formal knowledge of grammar. These reviewers therefore call for more examples, and more explanation of grammatical constructions. The teachers of teachers (possibly linguists), on the other hand, scorn the very idea of teaching either students or teachers how to identify all the grammatical constructions in any sentence. ( #2,  # 3 ) In order to avoid tripping over "he/she," I am going to refer to reviewers 1, 4, and 5 as "she," and to reviewers 2 and 3 as "he." 
     I may be right or wrong about what these reviewers actually do for a living, but what we have here is a clear reflection of a major problem in NCTE. Most (not all) teachers cannot identify even basic constructions (prepositional phrases, subjects and verbs, clauses) in a typical text, but the teachers of teachers basically do not give a damn. They want to teach teachers what they want to teach. If it doesn't help the teachers, that is the teachers problems. (Beyond these two reviewers, I have heard this expressly stated by teachers of teachers in the course of my work as editor of Syntax in the Schools.)

The Question of Audience

     The apparent split among the reviewers naturally leads back to the question of the audience for the book. I knew this would be a problem, since it had also been a problem when NCTE rejected Teaching Grammar as a Liberating Art. Several of the reviewers raise the question of the intended audience within NCTE. It is an interesting question, especially since I was originally invited to write a TRIP book -- Theory and Research into Practice. I realize, of course, that many teachers are overworked, but with a question as complex and important as the teaching of grammar, and with the invitation to write one book that covered theory, research, and practice, I did the best I could. Perhaps the most interesting response here comes Reviewer #1, who repeatedly returns to the question of audience. The most relevant of the comments is on the final comment on the conclusion:  "The conclusion 'Commencement?' reads a bit like the final pages of a dissertation. Again, who is the audience?" As I tried to suggest in the "Commencement," the problems in the teaching of grammar will not be solved until the entire English Profession, from linguists, to teachers of teachers,  to the teahcers themselves, can get together and look for what is best for the students. This means that they are all going to have to be willing to read the same texts to see how they can work together to solve the problems. Such discussion is currently almost non-existent, so the conclusion of the manuscript suggests that we commence.
     Part of the problem here is embedded in the very organizational structure of NCTE. Primarily, there is an English Education group (for teachers of teachers), a college group, a high school group, a middle school group, and an elementary school group. There are some "interest" groups which overlap these boundaries, but the only one related to grammar is ATEG, and I have already discussed that group. As a result, there is a tendency for NCTE members to be rather selfish. (Watch those "s"  words!) As you read the reviews, note the implications of "tell me what I need to know (and skip the rest)." 

References to the KISS web site

      Several of the reviewers complain about the references within the book that indicate that more information can be found on the KISS web site. Reviewer # 2 is even rather snide about it. I was instructed to do this by the first editor that I worked with at NCTE. I was told that those references would be replaced by an icon, directing readers to the web site, as is done in other TRIP books, specifically Writing at the Threshold by Larry Weinstein.. Why, might I ask, is this being used as a criticism of this manuscript?

"Knowing That" or "Knowing How"

     One of the more interesting reactions to the manuscript involves the comments about my explanation (in Chapter Five) of ellipsis in "Put on your thinking cap." I wrote:

One of my favorite examples of ellipsis is "Put on your thinking cap." Clearly this does not mean "Put ?something? {on your thinking cap.}" Rather, it means "Put your thinking cap {on *your head.*}"
The (second) editor complained about this before the text was sent to the reviewers, claiming that "put on" is a "phrasal verb." Reviewer #5 used the same term to make the same objection, noting, in addition, that "on" here functions as a "particle." There are two problems with this objection. In the first place, it assumes that knoweldege is a matter of "that" and not "how." The editor and the reviewer claim that they know, but how do they know? The implication seems to be that there is a category of "phrasal verbs" which students are expected to know. But if we ask how students can know this, the only answer is  to think about the meaning (which is precisely what I suggested).
     The other problem with this objection is that it suggests that neither the editor nor the reviewer have had much experience in trying to get students to analyse real texts.  Anyone who has spent much time attempting to get students to identify prepositional phrases will soon see that some students will unthinkingly see the word "on" and mark "on your thinking cap" as a prepositional phrase. This discussion of ellipsis is intended to treat students as humans capable of thinking and to show them how to use their understanding of the language to determine why constructions such as "on your thinking cap" are not prepositional phrases, or, if we want to use the term, how we can consider some verbs to be "phrasal  verbs."
       An even worse attitude toward students is implicit in the remarks of Reviewer #3.  He? includes a rant on "verb-particle pairs" and claims that 
The point here is that Vavra's third graders, whose job it is to spot prepositions, are going to identify "for his glasses" as a prepositional phrase in the sentence "He looked for his glasses." In the fifth grade they will have to correct their error when they study  the whole sentence.
First we should note the scorn implicit in "whose job it is to spot prepositions." Second, although this reviewer makes a big deal of it, it really does not make that much difference if students consider "for his glasses" to be a prepositional phrase. No student ever has a problem using these phrases.
     This reviewer, as he? goes on to state, is not at all interested in teaching students to be able to identify prepositional phrases so that they will have an easier time identifying subjects and verbs. Most teachers who have any knowledge of grammar will tell you, as some of the reviewers of this manuscript did, that the ability to identify prepositional phrases makes it much easier for students to identify subjects and verbs. Reviewer #3, however, after a long disquisition on how to distinguish "verb-particle pairs" concludes with 
I am not suggesting that third-graders be confronted with this issue--that is, whether or not a particular sentence has a prepositional phrase or a two-word verb. This issue will perhaps come up in their early high school years in the discussion of verb choice, the difference in levels of formality and tone between ask for and request. What I am suggesting is that prepositional phrases should be studied in their roles as modifiers, within the context of clauses, not as a method of clearing away words from the sentence so that the subjects and verbs and complements are easier to find. 
Note the logical problem in these comments. We are supposed to teach third graders prepositional phrases "in their roles as modifiers, within the context of clauses," but we are not expected to help them distinguish prepositional phrases from two-word verbs until "their early high school years." Thus we are expected to teach students how the phrases function, but not how to identify them.
This reviewer has totally abandoned the question of what should be taught to third graders, and he? has ignored all the sections of the manuscript that deal with modification, subordination, logic, and style. In addition, he? is unfamiliar with, or unable to comprehend, Bruner's concept of a "spiral curriculum." Finally, isn't this reviewer suggesting that students are too stupid to be able to expand a basic concept? (Or is this reviewer creating a stupid educational situation in which students are expected to understand how constructions function without knowing what the constructions are?) 

Review # 1

      Reviewer # 1 has some good suggestions and interesting things to say, but basically she wants to see more of one arm of "Phenx" and wants the research and theoretical arms stuffed away in the shirt and tie. She does note, however, that  "the theory-base appears sound." I truly appreciate the many nice things that this reviewer said about the manuscript, but the editor clearly used this review as a reason for rejecting the manuscript, so I have to address the problematic comments. Some of them could easily have been addressed. The complaint about the passage using Jesus and the apostles could easily be resolved by substituting a different joke. I used it because many teachers like it in that it presents the complaints that they often hear from students. Note that this reviewer was not offended, but she was worried that others might be. 
     I would have been happy to supply more examples, but the editor said shorter, and examples of students' writing take up a lot of space. I would also have liked to include more "teacher voices." What this reader does not seem to understand, however, is that because of NCTE's condemnation of the teaching of grammar, such voices are not easy to find. A year before the manuscript was completed, I sent out requents, on NCTE-Talk and on the ATEG list server, for examples and ideas on what teachers are currently doing in the classroom. What I recieved was included, primarily in Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine. 
     A careful reading of this review reveals that, once we get beyond the question of audience, the reviewer makes many positive comments about the substance of the manuscript. 

Review # 2

      What interests me most about this review, as a rejection of the manuscript, is that the writer claims that transference is the main purpose of teaching grammar, but makes not a single suggestion about how that can be done. Could the reason for that be that any suggestion that this reviewer might make is indeed included in the manuscript. This reviewer has totally ignored, not only the chapters about research and theory on natural syntactic development, and the discussion of the psycholinguistic model, but also Chapter Eight, on expansion exercises, and Chapter Nine, on exercises for writing, logic, and style. Likewise, the reviewer ignored the discussion of having students analyze their own writing (Chapter Eleven).   He then concludes that "That is the problem I see with this text; it provides little to no opportunity for transference, particularly into the student's writing." As I struggled with how this reviewer could possibly arrive at this conclusion, a possible explanation finally came to me. This reviewer, perhaps, believes that students are stupid. Perhaps he doesn't believe that transference will occur unless teachers specifically guide it, through such things as sentence-combining. But then, sentence-combining is discussed in the manuscript. I have to wonder about the persepctive that this reviewer brings to the text. He doesn't appear to be a K-12 teacher. Compare, for example, what this reviewer has to say with what Reviewer # 5 says just about Chapters Eight and Nine.
     Of more, and greater importance for the teaching of grammar, this reviewer notes that teaching grammar as a "hierarchy" "might 'push' the field." But he dismisses the idea, claiming that "the audience for that concept is very limited and therefore, this text would have little appeal to a wider audience." I guess NCTE would not want to push the field, even if the idea is good, or even crucial. Isn't this saying that the criteria for publication is not what might help students, but rather how many copies the book might sell?
     Note, by the way, that in this reviewer's final four comments, A and D basically say the same thing, as do B and C. I also love the "all this." There is no indication that this reviewer knows (or does not know) anything about grammar or linguistics, about natural syntactic development, or about what is going on in the schools. This review is just silly.

Review # 3

     The following comments on Reviewer # 3 are the most sarcastic in this document. I apologize for that in advance, but I am getting old, worn out, and tired of defending common sense. In a sense, this reviewer asks for the sarcasm, so here, for once (from my point of view), it comes. Review # 3 represents the view of many linguists and grammarians, a view that, if they are willing to consider at all, they certainly will not discuss in public.
     Once again we need to discuss the reaction to the title. This reviewer states:

       Before looking at those claims and objectives, I must comment on the title.
The author may have meant "Keep it simple, stupid," as simply a joke of sorts, but
with his constant reference to the superiority of the KISS approach over every
other grammar book or method of teaching, the teachers of those other methods
and books will surely believe that "stupid" is addressed to them. Under most
circumstances the title would not be important at the review stage. However, in
the case of KISS Grammar (You'll Love It), the uncharitable "stupid" and its
patronizing tone pervade the whole book.
I explained (above) what I meant by "stupid," and that it was clearly explained in the manuscript. It doesn't surprise me that this reviewer didn't see that because, of all the reviewers, it most accurately applies to him. This reviewer is out to save the linguists whom he apparently sees as supermen who can solve the problem. I look at that in a minute, but, to justify my sarcasm, I simply  want to note that this reviewer challenges the KISS grammatical  definitions and concludes that 
There is a great deal of creativity throughout KISS Grammar, the most serious
element of which is the claim that its plan for scope and sequence is backed by
research. There is simply no basis for that claim.
He thus dismisses twenty-plus years of work on the basis of his supposed expertise. And NCTE's editor listened. To be fair to this reviewer, we need to remember that he was given KISS "lite." Whether or not the editor informed him of that, I have no way of knowing. This reviewer makes three "main points" against the text, so we should look at each in detail. The first is:
Claiming that his curriculum is based on research, Vavra takes unjustified
and unsupported leaps from the descriptions of student writing in that
research to unwarranted conclusions about the scope and sequence of
teaching grammatical structures.
If there were true, it would be very serious criticism indeed. But let's look at how he supports the claim. He summarizes my review of the research of Hunt, Loban, and O'Donnell. He does not challenge their research, but he clearly challenges my interpretation of it, claiming that I make an "unsupported leap." He derides my "sharp increase" buy pointing out that it is "12 percent." What he fails to note is that that 12% is four times higher than the rate of any other yearly increas with one exception (to which I shall return). Instead, he points to the fact that evey the youngest writers use subordinate clauses. But he then totally ignores the immediately following discussion of O'Donnell's "formulas." (And, when he finally gets to them, it is clear that he does not understand the concept.) That discussion clearly suggests that young children often hear clauses such as "When we get home" and "If Daddy says o.k."  The discussion of formulas includes a quotation from the highly respected developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, who notes that
The child may operate with subordinate clauses, with words like "because," "if," "when," and "but," long before he really grasps causal, conditional, or temporal relationships. He masters syntax of speech before syntax of thought. Piagetís studies proved that grammar develops before logic and that the child learns relatively late the mental operations corresponding to the verbal forms he has been using for a long time. 
Let's see. We've got Loban's and the other' statistics; we have O'Donnell's concept of formulas, and we have Vygotsky, clearly talking about clauses. Can this reviewer put the three of them together? Note that this reviewer offers no other explanation for the increase between seventh and eight grades, yet he claims that Vavra "jumps" to a conclusion.
     In his defense, this reviewer quotes a passage from Robert Owens' Language Development. He claims that the passage shows that "Other researchers who have looked at the question of writing development have come up with conclusions far different than Vavra's." I would certainly agree that other researchers have come up with different conclusions, but is that really the case here? First of all, the reviewer does not tell the editor that the quoted passage is really about the convergence between oral and written language. It is not about general syntactic development. The reviewer emphaises a sentence from the quotation: "In this phase, the child can write independently using structures from speech in the same proportion as they appear in speech. [my emphasis]." This phase occurs "At around age seven," and thus, I would suggest, probably explains in part the other high yearly rate of increase in the statistics, that between third and fourth grades. And I have to wonder if this reviewer relied solely on Owens, or if he read the cited source materials. Wilkinson and Kroll, for example, have almost nothing to say about syntactic development, other than a few counts of surface-structure features. (As I write this, I am still waiting for copies of the other sources.) This reviewer does not even seem to be aware that he is comparing apples and oranges.
     If we procede to the discussion of the later stages of the KISS theory of natural syntactic development, we find a similar problem. Before looking at it, however, we need to consider a different, but intimately related problem. What should teachers  teach? This reviewer, like far too many linguists and grammarians, wants to teach grammar. If a construction appears in the writing of kindergarteners (and all constructions do), then we should teach it. Whether or not the students (or their teachers) can understand it is totally irrelevant. I'll support that more below, but note how it is implicit in the reviewer's comment on the KISS apporach to verbals:
     Unfortunately, Vavra's curriculum does not lend itself to the systematic study
of modification or subordination, neither the various forms of modifiers in the
noun phrase nor the various forms of adverbials that modify verbs. His
curriculum is based on forms rather than functions. An obvious example is his
take on verbals (gerundives [participles], gerunds, and infinitives), the
identification of which. is postponed until the tenth grade, in spite of their common
usage in the speech of little children and even, as the statistics in Hunt's study
show, in the writing of fourth graders.
If they can be found in the students' writing, then, according to this reviewer, we can teach them. There is a self-centeredness here that is shared by too many teachers of teachers. Consider the fact that reviewers 1, 2, and 5 all asked for a slower explanation of grammatical constructions. Consider the fact that all three of these reviewers state that most teachers are very insecure when it comes to grammatical terminology. Consider the fact that most English teachers cannot identify suborinate clauses. [If you do not believe that, go into any middle or high school and ask the teachers to take a test in which they are to identify the clauses in their students' writing.] And then consider this reviewer's response to the problem of fragments in a fourth grader's writing:
What he is suggesting to teachers here is to single out words, parts of
speech--nouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs--for identification. It seems
clear, however, that the fourth-grader who wrote this description is trying very
hard to use subordinate if-clauses, a structure that children use with no difficulty
in speech. This student's teacher should not be asking the writer to look for
prepositional phrases and nouns and verbs; this writer should be getting help
with those if-clauses. And of course that discussion will require the student to
think about the concept of subjects and predicates, of the structure of clauses.
Superlinguist is going to get right in there and teach clauses to those fourth graders! He totally ignores the fact that I point out how this student can be helped simply by being taught to identify subjects and verbs
     I already receive a fair amount of mail from the KISS web site. Shortly after the manuscript was rejected, I received the following:
Dear Dr. Vavra,
      I am a 4th grade teacher (This is my first year). Our Reading, Spelling, and Grammar series is all in one book. We were working on clauses this week. Some of my students were not getting the concept at all. Is there something that I can do to help them with this concept that is meant for older students. I want them to do well. We will need this information to go onto the next concept. Any in put or ideas will be greatly appreciated.
 Thank you,
And shortly after that came the following:
     I'm very interested in using the KISS method in my high school English classes.  I teach 10th grade honors on a block schedule (roughly 90 minutes) for one semester.  Do you have any recommendations in structuring my course?  Like most other teachers, I have too much "to cover" and not enough time to actually TEACH anything.  In spite of being "honors," most of my students can't find a subject and a verb. I am also expected to "teach" a great deal of literature and writing in this short amount of time.
Thank you,
Reviewer # 3, remember, is going to teach clauses to fourth graders.  Perhaps if the linguists would stop concentrating on what they want to teach and focus on teachers' real world problems, some compromise could be reached. But that would require books that attempt to meet a broad audience.
     Since this reviewer expressly denied the validty of KISS developmental theory, we are not finished, unfortunately, with his comments. (I apologize for the length, but fair is fair.) He attempts to destroy the KISS statistical argument for the late blooming of gerundives.He does this by confusing the argument, and lumping all the verbals together -- "Yet in Vavra's scheme, all verbals as a group are labeled late-blooming structures." Nowhere in the text do I claim that. My claim, based on Hunt among other things, is that gerundives and appositives are late-blooming. It is interesting to note that Reviewer # 5, in discussing the research on which KISS is largely based, refers to "an article by Hunt in which he discusses natural syntactic development." Might there have been a reason for not mentioning the title of that article -- ""Early Blooming and Late Blooming Syntactic Structures"? For Hunt, appositives and what I call "gerundives" are late-blooming. Hunt, moreover, makes a very convincing argument. (See the text.)
     Part of the problem here is again the Phenx presentation of KISS -- it is true that in the text I equate "participle" and "gerundive." I did so because most teachers, as reviewer # 5 noted, would be more familiar with the term, and I was supposed to keep it "theory lite." But reviewer #3, if he understands anything about linguistics, and if he can read examples, should have been able to decipher this. Instead, he objects to the KISS use of the term "gerundive." Since at least one other reviewer had a problem with this term, I need to un-Phenx the gerundive. The reviewers who objected all prefered the term "participle," but as reviewer # 3 correctly notes, "participle" refers to the form of the word (-ing, -ed, -en, etc.). Consider what he says about this (immediately below) in light of what the teachers said in their e-mails (above).
     In my opening I noted also that the KISS curriculum includes factual errors
and misinterpretations. Vavra s term gerundive is certainly one of these. This term
was used early in the last century by perhaps only one linguist. It never caught
on--and now it is simply not used. And while it's true that we use participle in
two senses--both to name the -ing and -en forms of verbs and also to name their
adjectival function--teachers and students have no problem make [sic] the distinction.
        Like many researchers, reviewer # 3 likes to count surface features. Thus he provides a count which mixes all verbals and purports to show that no "development" occurs. But if we count all verbals, or even all pariticiples, in students' writing, the development of gerundives is hidden. Participles include all "-ing" forms of verbs -- "Bike riding," "He was riding," "running water," "swimming," "swimming pool," "drinking glass." The include all past tense forms -- "scrambled eggs," "burnt toast," "broken dishes." What we have here is a mixture of finite verb forms, verb forms used as nouns, and verb forms used as adjectives. But these adjectival forms are significantly different from those offered by Hunt:
We caught two bass, hauling them in briskly as though they were mackerel, pulling them over the side of the boat in a businesslike manner without any landing net, and stunning them with a blow on the back of the head.

She slept all the time, laying no eggs.

The chicken cackled, waking the man.
Blaming the chicken, he killed her and ate her for breakfast.

And note what Hunt has to say about the frequency of their use. Finally, we should note that after deriding and making fun of me, reviewer #3 actually supports the KISS theory and approach
Some nonrestrictive modifiers are rarely used in speech--the nonrestrictive adjectival clauses, appositives, participial phrases as free modifiers, absolute phrases; these are the ones that should be delayed until the students are learning to enrich. their descriptive writing, perhaps in ninth. or tenth. grades.
Reviewer #3 knows, or at least should know, that KISS gerundives are in that category of nonrestrictive modifiers to which he refers. He also probably knows that "restrictive" and "nonrestrictive" are complex, debateable categories. (See Brock Haussamen, Revising the Rules: Traditional Grammar and Modern Linguistics. 2nd ed. Kendall/Hunt, 1997.) He just doesn't want to admit that KISS theory is valid. If it is widely accepted, he will not be able to play superlinguist. 

     And this brings us to this reviewer's second "main point":

The narrow objective of the KISS approach--grammar knowledge as an
analytical tool--minimizes, if not ignores, the application of grammar
knowledge in the writing classroom, grammar as a writing tool.
He repeats this throughout the review on the well-known principle that if you repeat a lie frequently enough, people will believe it. (For example, "The KISS curriculum, of course, is not designed for the enhancement of writing; it's purpose is merely to identify.") The problem here is that this reviewer ignores half the text, and, in addition, cannot imagine teaching students anything about language without bringing in linguistic terminology. He complains, for example that
Vavra dismisses entirely the notion of 'determiner,' one of the structure classes (a class of noun signalers that includes possessive and demonstrative pronouns, numbers, and articles).
He then goes on, for half a page, explaining -- to the editor of NCTE -- the rhetorical importance of the determiner. He totally ignores the KISS presentation of Gibson's discussion of the stylistic and rhetorical effects of the determiner, but then, he ignores the entire Chapter 9 -- Exercises for Writing, Logic, and Style. He ignores the examples of syntactic analyses of literary texts. He ignores many of the exercises in Part Three, simply condemning those which help students learn to identify constructions. He doesn't appear to realize that, until students are able to identify the constructions, they will not be able to make much sense of any discussions which use the terms. Thus he makes no mention of the KISS objective of enabling students to evaluate the syntax of their own writing styles. He claims that
Unfortunately, Vavra's curriculum does not lend itself to the systematic study
of modification or subordination, neither the various forms of modifiers in the
noun phrase nor the various forms of adverbials that modify verbs. 
And totally ignores the discussion of this in Chapter Fourteen. (If you look closely, you will see that he really does not care about teaching how to do it; he wants to teach the terminology.) Nor does he comment on the KISS distinction between "Required" objectives (the ability) to identify, and "Desired" objectives -- various ways to apply that ability to discussions of writing, style, logic, and literature. Now I know what is meant by a "hatchet job." First you cut off Phenx's arms, and then you tell him that they aren't capable of doing anything.

     Finally, we come to this reviewer's third main point:

The KISS Approach not only ignores the past six decades of linguistic research, it includes errors and misinterpretations; and it makes no use of the students' own internal linguistic expertise.
There are three points here, so we need to take them one at a time. First of all, the linguistic research. (I will try to make this brief.) What this reviewer apparently wants to see is a discussion of linguistic theory. He wants to talk (as he does throughout) about the theory and how it might apply to teaching. This is, in fact, what future teachers are often taught. They study all about linguistics and then leave the classroom unable to identify subjects and verbs. (I have discussed this elsewhere -- "The Crime".) Apparently, this reviewer is unable to identify the principles of modern linguistic theory, even when they are pointed out to him. The beginning of Chapter Four clearly discusses the linguistic concepts of embedding, deletion, and reduction, and it suggests their centrality to KISS theory. It also notes that KISS is a grammar for laymen, not for linguists. This is, apparently, totally unacceptable to reviewer # 3. (I'm tempted to say more, but I won't.)
      Reviewer #3's inability to recognize linguistic concepts also explains  his claim that KISS "includes errors and misinterpretations." First we need to note that this reviewer doesn't make a peep about the discussion of confusion -- the Babel of grammatical terminology --  in the classrooms. He doesn't date because he wants to add to it his own commandments of grammatical terminology. He notes, for example, that "I should mention that throughout these pages Vavra makes a point of disregarding all object complements." The manuscript, however, includes an explanation, based on transformational grammar theory, which explains why KISS can do without "objective" and "subjective" complements. It would be one thing if this reviewer addressed the KISS explanation and showed what is wrong with it, but this reviewer simply pretends that it does not exist. He wants to teach objective complements. 
     He also wants to teach "sentence modifiers":
      Another term Vavra misuses here is that of interjection. This term names one
of the eight parts of speech in traditional grammar--in other words, the name of a
word class. And that is the only application it has, the only way that grammar
books and linguists use it. Vavra uses the term in that traditional way, but he
adds another: the name of a function. Because the traditional interjection stands
outside of the sentence (Wow!. Look at that.), he makes the leap that every
structure that functions independently of the main clause should be called an
interjection. As he points out, linguists call such structures sentence modifiers.
He has decided, on his own, to rename them.
The interesting phrases here are "that is the only application it has" and "he makes the leap that every structure that functions independently of the main clause should be called." Although he does not want to get near the tower of Babel, this reviewer does acknowledge the fact that linguists change their minds and do not all agree. He finds it absolutely astounding, however, that anyone could propose a grammar for laymen that doesn't coincide with his (or the linguists') view of grammar. After all, "that is the only application it has." (We are to take that on whose authority?) In addition, this reviewer misintreprts what KISS proposes, and does so in an interesting way -- "he makes the leap that  . . . should be called." I never said that. I said that it can be called.
       What bothers me most, however, about the third part of this reviewer's third point, is the statement that KISS "makes no use of the students' own internal linguistic expertise." This is simply false. Note, for example, the discussion of when to teach prepositional phrases:
      I am frequently asked why the KISS the approach begins with prepositional phrases instead of with subjects and verbs. The question is so frequent because we have been lulled to sleep by the traditional approaches to grammar. These approaches still work on the assumption that the students have to be taught everything about grammar, from the bottom up. If this assumption were true, then subjects and verbs would be the place to begin. But even third graders are already masters of English. They have learned more about grammar than we will ever teach them in our classrooms. Their knowledge is, of course, subconscious. Our objective is to make enough of that subconscious knowledge conscious so that they can intelligently discuss questions of style and errors. [Emphasis added]
Consider, for example, the instructional handout suggested for third graders: 
Your brain already knows what prepositions are. It has to, since you use these words correctly day in and day out. What you are trying to do is to make that unconscious knowledge conscious so you can understand how prepositional phrases fit within sentence patterns.
The only thing I can imagine that would explain this reviewer's comment here is that he wants to use the appearance of constructions in students' writing in order to justify a linguistic rushing in to teach grammar, and that has been discussed above.
     What is really troublesome, however, is this reviewer's apparent attitude toward students. Note how he derides my acceptance of a student's explanation of a grammatical construction -- "Vavra was pleased when a student identified "one smoking" in the following sentence as a noun absolute:" He is claiming, of course, that this is another one of my "errors and misinterpretations." He totally ignores the fact that I refer to Jespersen's theory of nexus to support the explanation. I could also have referred transformational grammar theory, but the book had to be kept "lite" and short. Note also, that I indicate that alternate explanations are allowable. What reason does the reviewer give for not accepting the student's interpretation? "Because they are not absolute phrases!" Superlinguist has spoken. Now, who is it who not only "makes no use of students' own internal linguistic expertise," but also scorns them?

      There is a lot more that I could criticize in this review, but it is time to stop. I have, I believe, demonstrated the lack of validity in the main points in the review. I want to thank this reviewer for writing as much as he did. He has given me the opportunity not only to defend KISS Grammar, but also to discuss, in more detail, the attitudes of many grammarians and linguists. (I have not seen any articles in which they will put their ideas about teachers' problems, or how they would apporach them, in print.) I hope that the reviewer, should he (or she) see this response, will realize that I did not enjoy writing it. The only reasons I did so are that 1) the review was used by NCTE to justify the rejection of the manuscript, 2) I have a passionate, twenty-year-long concern about the poor instruction in our schools, 3) the review embodies the view of linguists which I attempted to discuss in Chapter One, and 4) I'm getting old, and tired of being scorned, especially by people who misrepreent what I say.

Review # 4

      Reviewer # 4 clearly makes an honest attenpt, not only to review  the manuscript, but also to offer good suggestions. As she (?) notes, "I would rate it publishable with significant revision. The subject is very timely, given the current academic climate, and the approach is simple and logical. I just need a book to match." It is clear throughout the book that what she wants is the section on KISS put first, and the theory and research at the end. In discussing the KISS "program," she states, "It's a wonderful program, one that I'd love to use in my school. But it's buried in the back of the book, and only a determined teacher would persevere this far." Even though the suggestion calls for some major changes, personally, I would have no problem with it. (Should that change be made, of course, others would likely complain that the theory and research should be put first.) This reviewer has a number of other nice things to say about the substance of the KISS approach, but if I point them out, critics will complain that I'm simply praising someone who praises KISS. Thus I simply want to establish that this reviewer clearly sees the text as publishable and relelvant, and KISS as a "wonderful program." This reviewer also makes other, more specific suggestions which I see as very helpful. For example, in discussing Chapter Nine, she notes, "It's also not clear until the very end that this is intended for the teacher, not the students." Suggestions such as this could easily have been used to improve the text.
      I really do not like the idea of saying what I'm about to say about this review, but the NCTE editor was not very clear as to which reviewers were the determining factors in the decision to reject the text. As with review #1, therefore, I have to address some of the negative things said about the manuscript by this reviewer. In doing this, the first thing that came to mind is that this reviewer is, figuratively speaking, a student of reviewer # 3. Reviewer # 3 has "the" answers and, supposedly, could tell teachers exactly what to teach. Reviewer # 4 wants those answers. She wants to be told what to do, with what exercises, when, and under what conditions. Note, for example,

Chapter Five again got too theory-laden for me. I don't need to know the three definitions of the bases of grammar to use KISS. The author spends a lot of time telling us what KISS is not and how it differs from traditional grammar without ever really telling us what it is. I don't want to read about nexal patterns and ostensive definitions. This chapter should come after you tell me what concrete steps I take with my students to give them the tools to analyze language.
This passage is interesting for three reasons. Obviously it shows that the reviewer wants to be given "concrete steps." Second, in spite of this reviewer's praise of the approach, it raises questions about how well she understands it. To use the approach well, she does need to know about "the three definitions of the bases of grammar," "nexal patterns," and "ostensive definitions." The three definitions of the bases of grammar, for example, present three different ways of defining the "parts of speech," any or all of which can be used to help students. Thus, if her objective is to get students to recognize verbs, she might try the "notional" base (A verb is a word that shows action or state of being.) and it really might work! If it doesn't (and she would know that it does or doesn't,  better than anyone else, including both me and Reviewer # 3), then she could try another base (formal or syntactic). And, if none of those work, then  she could try Wittgenstein's "ostensive" -- simply give the students lots of examples. The KISS Approach addresses teachers as intelligent, thinking human beings. Unfortunately, reviewer #4 complains about having to think. Readers can simply note how often this reviewer states, "I don't understand," and how often she requests step-by-step, "program" directions. I am, of course, also bothered by this reviewer's objections to the references to the KISS web site. It is true that she "would have paid good money for this book," but the  web site is free, and the Workbooks are actually being developed with grade-specific exercises (almost like she is asking for), and more of them than could ever be put in a book.
      I have delayed my final reason for quoting the long passage (above) until now because it again relates to reviewer # 3. Reviewer #3 claims that 
Even though Vavra names Paul Roberts as his favorite grammarian, there is
no evidence in KISS Grammar of any influence from Roberts or any other
structural linguist.
He then devotes a paragraph to Roberts' structural explanation of grammar classifications. (Does he realize that Roberts also wrote traditional and transformational pedagogical grammars?) Note specifically that reviewer # 3 claims that "there is no evidence in KISS Grammar of any influence from Roberts . . ." Reviewer # 4, however, found the specific reference to Roberts in KISS Grammar -- and wasn't interested.

Review # 5

     Reviewer # 5 is very Sensitive, and all I can say is that  I am sorry that I was not able to do a better job. Readers of review #5 will, I am sure, find it the most complete, most thoughtful, and most student-centered of the five reviews. This reviewer is also worried about the tone, and notes, for example, that "I should say here that Dr. V's voice in these last few chapters has been much more lively than was his voice in Part I." All I can say is that I am sorry for my failure. I have failed both this reviewer and the millions of children who, as a result of NCTE's resolution against the teaching of grammar, have been seriously cheated. More than twenty years of struggle, of being dismissed with little though (as by Reviewer #2), of being derided (as by Reviewer #3), have given me a thick skin. As a result, I couldn't find a more neutal way to point to NCTE's incompetence. I tried, and was willing to continue to try. 
     But the effort was doomed. One of the few specific comments of the final editor was an objection to, of course, Chapter Two. Why, I was asked, did the review of the research begin so many sections with "In 19xx, NCTE published ...."? Other discussions of books, I was informed, don't do that. We don't see "In 19xx Heinemann published ...." That is true, I noted, but no other publishers or organizations have carried on a sustained campaign against the teaching of grammar, or passed a resolution against the teaching of it. Readers of the final version will see that I made changes to the chapter. I would  have been willing to make still more changes, but there was no longer an interest in working with me. 
      Hence, I have to appeal to the public, outside NCTE. Let's take grammar back from these "experts"! Spread the word. Visit the KISS web site!