Diagraming sentences, it's fair to say, lacks the magic to stir men's blood.
A documentary about diagraming sentences? Well, that's a horse of a different color.
Minnesota couple David and Elizabeth O'Brien have big love and big plans for the grammatical device, which has fallen out of pedagogical favor over the past couple of decades.
"We're huge fans of diagraming," says David O'Brien. "It's the mathematics of language."
The O'Briens, both former teachers, noticed a general inability to grasp grammar basics among their students. They started chatting up other teachers, as well as linguists and academics and authors. They even tracked down veteran copy editor Kitty Burns Florey, author of 2007's "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagraming Sentences" (Harvest Books).
The consensus was that their students' stumbles were part of a larger trend—and not a happy one. A move away from sentence diagraming, they discovered, coincided with a larger shift away from teaching other language nuts and bolts.
"We're not really teaching grammar any more," says O'Brien. "There's sort of a now-and-then, haphazard smattering of lessons that just leaves everyone confused and really frustrated with the subject."
Inspired by their conversations and determined to change the course of events, the couple set out in early January to raise $22,000 for a "Grammar Revolution" documentary, using Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative endeavors. Their deadline is Thursday.
As of Tuesday, they had raised $23,209.
"The film's mood will be positive, and its theme will be simultaneously simple and eye-opening," the O'Briens write on their funding website (kickstarter.com/projects/grammarrevolution/grammar-revolution). "We'll explain why grammar is no longer taught in most schools. We'll show that understanding grammar is important and that learning it can be easy. Along the way, we'll also correct misconceptions and address the difficult questions at the heart of today's grammar debates."
David O'Brien imagines the documentary to be a celebration of language as much as a call to action. And who does he imagine watching it?
"I think it could be very popular with a general audience," he says. "We haven't pursued professional distribution, but depending how things go, we might pursue that. We've thought about trying to get it into some film festivals."
It's hard to imagine, he argues, a more universal topic.
"Language brings up all sorts of fascinating issues and questions that are part of everyone's life," he says. "It's quirky and subjective and borderline political and it's really easy to be self-conscious about. It's inherently interesting."
All good reasons to think big, we say. Consider, after all, a beloved quote from Chicago architect and city planner Daniel Burnham:
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die."
Particularly a noble, logical sentence diagram.
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