Moffet argues that Language Arts differ from other subjects in the traditional curriculum, in that there is “no particular content, because everything is their content.” Because Language Arts involve teaching students how to “operate a language,” the study of any discourse can lend itself to this end. This idea differs from traditional approaches towards teaching language arts, which often emphasize explicit grammar instruction and an objective, and almost scientific study of canonical works. Moffetf argues that the fallacy of this approach is that “no evidence exists, either practical or scientific, that learning formulations about language such as formal grammar will improve listening, reading, speaking or writing.” Moreover, Moffett argues that this approach completely fails to instill in children a love for language and literature, which should be a fundamental goal of all educators.
I believe that Moffet’s ideas are quite astute and sound. However, I think that occasional explicit instruction in certain aspects of language is important. Is it really reasonable to assume that students will eventually learn the difference between “there” and “their” just by observation? I would argue that occasional explicit instruction is indeed important in order for students to master the conventions of the English language, and am somewhat surprised that Moffett can make such a broad statement that there is no evidence whatsoever to link learning formulations about language with improved writing or speaking abilities. Nevertheless, I believe that Moffett’s ideas are important, and many teachers could stand to improve their practice by implementing these ideas.
For the most part, I find that the language arts content standards tend to encourage higher order thinking skills that are in-line with Moffett’s argument. Rather than standards such as “memorize publication dates of important literary works,” we see words such as interpret, analyze and compose. Moffett’s ideas and our analysis of the standards, has reframed for me how I conceive of my role as a language arts teacher. Rather than imparting knowledge about canonical works and grammatical structures to my students, I must aim to engage students in diverse texts that will not only show them how to operate our language system, but will instill in them an appreciation, and hopefully a love for language.