An Open Letter to the Leadership of NCTE

January 23, 2003

Dear ________;

       I am sorry to say that I am calling for a public, national investigation of NCTE's position on grammar. For more than two decades I have been concerned about the teaching of grammar, and, in particular, NCTE's research about, and resolution against it. Simply put, that research, including the Braddock and Hillocks reports, is fallacious and harmful to millions of students in our schools. (See the attachment.) In 1984, I started Syntax in the Schools, which is now the "journal" of the NCTE Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar. Over the years, I have had several articles on the question published in English Journal, but those articles barely begin to address the problem. 
      In the Fall of 2000, Peter Feely, then the NCTE K-12 Acquisitions Editor, invited me to submit a TRIP book manuscript on grammar to NCTE. Although I argued that NCTE would never publish the book, he assured me that he would work with me to create a publishable manuscript. Halfway through the project, however, it was turned over to Zarina Hock. Several months were spent in trying to implement Dr. Hock's suggestions, but it became increasingly clear that she had little, if any interest in publishing the manuscript. In rejecting the manuscript, Dr. Hock noted "serious concerns about tone, methodology, and audience," but I suspect that the real reason for the rejection is the criticism of the NCTE research and resolution against the teaching of grammar. Given the fact that some reviewers objected to the title, KISS Grammar (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I should note that it was, perhaps, stupid of me to think that NCTE would actually publish the book. That is, in fact, one of my questions for you -- can NCTE acknowledge errors in its own research?
      In her rejection letter, Dr. Hock referred to "shap[ing] the manuscript for another publisher." I have, however, no desire to do that. No publisher in the field is as influential as is NCTE, and besides, the book calls for the elimination of most grammar books. Which publishers would be interested in promoting that idea? At the time that Peter Feely contacted me, I was seriously considering a public campaign calling for investigations of NCTE's position on the teaching of grammar. Because of his request, I put that project on hold. Now, however, I cannot think of any other options. Thus I will be sending versions of the enclosed document to newspapers, magazines, educational organizations, talk shows, etc. I am, however, open to any suggestions for other options. If this question becomes a matter of widely publicized national debate, I am afraid that NCTE will be shown in a very bad light.
I thank you for your time.

Dr. Ed Vavra
DIF 112, Pennsylvania College of Technology
One College Ave.
Williamsport, PA 17701
(570) 326-3761 x 7736

P.S. You can find this letter, the attachment (the Call for an Investigation), the book manuscript, the five blind reviews of the manuscript, and my comments on them on the web at:
I am sending this to you earlier than I intended to. I wanted to revise some of my comments, but I was interviewed by someone who is writing an article on the topic for Newsday, and then I responded to the "Of Grammatophobia" article in The Chronicle of Higher Education

David Bloome, NCTE President
Patricia Lambert Stock, NCTE President-Elect
Randy Bomer, NCTE Vice President
Leila Christenbury, NCTE Past President
Katherine Bomer, NCTE Elementary Section Representative-at-Large
Kathryn Mitchell Pierce, NCTE Elementary Section Chair 
Curt Dudley-Marling, NCTE Elementary Section Assistant Chair
Tonya Perry, NCTE Middle Level Section, Representative-at-Large
Katherine Ramsey, NCTE Middle Level Section, Chair
Sharon Floyd, NCTE Secondary Section, Representative-at-Large
Rebecca Bowers Sipe, NCTE Secondary Section, Chair
Pat Graff, NCTE Secondary Section, Associate Chair
Shirley Wilson Logan, Chair, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Kathleen Blake Yancey, Associate Chair, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Dawn Abt-Perkins, Chair, Conference on English Education
Rudolph Sharpe, Chair, College on English Leadership
Steve Hornstein, President, Whole Language Umbrella
Peter Feely, National Council of Teachers of English
Zarina M. Hock, Ph.D., Director of Book Publications & Senior Editor