This year my oldest child is starting the second level (Paragraph Town level) of the Michael Clay Thompson grammar course. I’m really pleased with it, as I was with the first level. It introduces a level of grammatical analysis that goes way beyond what I ever learned in school, and now that he’s able to read through sections and do the work himself the thing I find challenging is simply making the time for me to study the work as well for fear I’ll be left miles behind. The reality that I could be left far behind was when he turned to me the other day and said, “I can’t remember, is ‘if’ a coordinating conjunction or a subjugating one? I’m trying to figure out if I need a comma between the clauses.” I didn’t have a quick enough answer for him. I don’t remember learning all the rules and tend to insert commas where it feels natural to pause rather than according to any structure. I want to learn though.
I felt just as lost last year when he started the first level practice book. Each page has one sentence that he had to analyze according to word types, parts of the sentence, phrases and clauses. I could help him with the first couple of sentences and then soon had to turn to the answer key to find the answers I did not know at all. I became impressed as the book lead us slowly through harder and harder sentences. I became impatient to know how to analyze the sentences I write!
The MCT program emphasis using varied, classical vocabulary. The level one vocabulary book uses one stem (like “bi” or “sub”) per chapter and then provides different activities relating to it – a poem, a dialogue including it and all previously taught stems, an analogy, and examples of the stem in Spanish as well as English.
We’re just starting the level two vocabulary book, so I can’t say much about it except that I have found it really important that I have a separate book on Latin stems to explain the ones he doesn’t explain. For example, the first chapter teaches the word “bicameral” as an example of a “bi” word. My kids understand the “bi” part but why does “cameral” mean chambers? The book I have is called NTC’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins. I look up bicameral in the word list in the back and then turn to the page about words relating to the word kamara. There we can learn its relationship to chamber, in-camera (the judge’s private room), camera obscura the “dark box” from which we get the word for our photo-taking camera. Bicameral makes sense now, as does many other words. MCT’s course gave us the push to learn the word but having the second book to look up the second half of the word was really important.
The book mentions bicameral governments in the American context. We talked about how the Canadian federal government is a bicameral institute with a House of Commons and Senate. My son responded by saying that our house functions a bit like that, with me as the House of Commons and his dad as the Senate – not so frequently used. He said he’s the average person who has to put up with laws being changed for our needs, regardless of his. Then of course he argued that one of us should step down in decision making and let him take over, or perhaps have a tricameral institute. (My hubby later said I should have taken that as the sign to discuss the three divisions of government: judicial, legislative and executive, but I wasn’t so quick thinking.) It did make me realize that all my protesting perhaps leads him to believe the government inherently serves only the wealthy, where as I hope to inspire with in him the belief that the government could do good for all. But this is all a bit of a side tangent from talking about the grammar and vocabulary program.
Michael Clay Thompson has some videos about why he feels grammar and vocabulary should be taught to students. One of the lines that strikes me there is when he says a child can learn the word Tyrannasaurus Rex, so why do we act like children can’t learn other complicated words? I think the same applies to a child’s ability to learn all the mechanics of minecraft or all the characters of Star Wars or all the different Pokemon. If they can learn those, why should they not also be able to learn all the Greek and Roman myths? Or the wars of resistance against colonialism? Or the characteristics of the different elements in the periodic table? I think they could, except we don’t make those things relevant to children. We don’t act as thought it were an every day part of life to know those things, anymore than we act as though the words odious or serene were everday words.