I am a professional writer, fiction actually, and I submit regularly to other Stack Exchange sites. I live in the Chicago area and have two kids, 6 and 8.

Here's my problem: Our district's grammar textbook is essentially, not too surprisingly, The Chicago Manual of Style. Of note, the textbook advocates use of the Oxford comma [the second comma in "I like the colors red, white, and blue"] and the use of one space after a period rather than two. This is the expectation in high school.

My kids are in grammar school. As a school, there is no pattern of usage, and my attempts at intervention have been met with blank stares. What's worse, my eight-year-old's teacher's husband is a sportswriter and vehemently disagrees--even after I pointed out the reference.

Perhaps I'm a little oversensitive to the issue because of my profession, but my argument is it's like telling the kids, "Well, 1 + 1= 3, but we just say that it's 2 for convention." Again, my complaint is based on the textbook my district uses.

Any suggestions?

  • If it's just your kids you're worried about you can always proofread their work and have them correct it, otherwise it would probably be valuable to understand why the teacher's aren't doing it the way you want. Perhaps they don't have the cycles and there are more important things, perhaps they're following a particular program that was instituted and things get taught in a particular order, perhaps they have wind that the guide that is going to be used in the high school is going to change in 3 years and are trying to prep the kids for what it will be when they get there. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 17:09
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    I'm not sure I understand the problem. You favor the oxford comma, and you think there should be one space after a period; they are not teaching your kids this now. You've brought it up with the teachers, who don't care. Is that the problem? Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 18:38
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    The high school teaches the comma (among about a dozen other things, I'm just using the example) and grades upon it. The elementary school teachers do not use it (but the superintendent does). My kids don't know what a comma is, but that's not the point. The average teacher in my district makes $85,000 USD (and that's not the point either, but increased remuneration increases expectation).
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 18:47

4 Answers 4


It's your right and even your duty as a parent to guide the education of your children. Exercise that right.

I am going to echo @Prinx's good answer in mine. In most elementary schools, they just don't care (as you've witnessed first hand.) They probably feel that they have bigger fish to fry, and will let the kids learn punctuation in high school. By then, habits are a bit harder to change, though they changed for me, and I'm sure if your kids care about their grades, they will learn it in high school. However, it doesn't hurt them to know the basics sooner.

Take it up with the principal and the school superintendent. If the high school that the kids go on to use the Chicago manual, the grammar school should as well. But, having done this, if you get no results, teach your kids at home. You're a writer. That's part of a craft you feel strongly about.

There is no end to teaching materials that drive home the importance of commas ("Let's eat Grampa." vs. "Let's eat, Grampa.") and the Oxford comma in funny ways.* Humor is an great teaching tool. On a weekly basis, give them a few hilarious examples of the danger of leaving out a comma and the Oxford comma.

When they have a paper due, proofread it. Yes, it's extra work for you that the school ideally should be doing. But if you can't get the school to do it, do it yourself. That's what having a hand in your kids' education sometimes comes down to.

Just don't badmouth anyone, and teach your kids to respect authority enough that they don't correct the teachers. That way, no one suffers.

*My favorite recent "comma story" comes from the New York Times. In a short review on the occasion of the release of her new book in paperback, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett, the New York Times reviewer wrote:

These sparkling personal essays, by the author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder, cover the quotidian and the profound: from Patchett’s passion for opera and her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog, and her resolve to open an independent bookstore in Nashville.*[bolding mine]

Patchett was obliged to answer in a letter to the editor:

...When highlighting a few of the essays in the collection, the review mentions topics ranging from “her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog” without benefit of comma, thus giving the impression that Sparky and I are hitched. While my love for my dog is deep, he married a dog named Maggie at Parnassus Books last summer...

kids of different ages will find some things funnier than others. Choose appropriately.

  • Thanks. My concern is if my child continues to see "wrong" examples in primary school, it will promote difficult-to-correct behavior later on. Agreed, it's a minor issue, but I don't feel it's wrong to want my kids' teachers to know and utilize correct information. (Albeit grammar is a style issue for different forms of prose ...)
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 21:25
  • @StuW - I don't think it's wrong either, but arguing with a child's teacher is a risky business that can come back to bite your child in the end. My feeling is if the teacher is not receptive, don't push them; just take it higher up. In the end, sometimes teaching your kids means undoing some of the bad stuff they've learned in school. Not ideal, but real life stuff. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 1:49
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    Agreed. I went to the teacher once, and she was explicit in that she didn't want further input on the subject (which I thought was ridiculously bratty, but whatever). So I didn't give any. Instead, I went to the Internet!
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 2:04

As a former editor who was mostly loved but also called a comma-Nazi and worse, I would say you seem a bit overly concerned about minutiae, particularly for 6-8 year old kids and their school teachers. I would suggest you meditate on what the upset is about for you, so it can bug you less. Then you can mention your grammar suggestions without it being so bothersome.

My parents were both well-educated and spoke very correctly, and one was an English professor, but they were also very laid back about it. They just spoke correctly and with intelligence and sensitivity to their world use. Just by being around them, and by having them not be overly critical about anything, I automatically absorbed a keen ear for the use of words that was grammatically correct. So I would tend to expect your own children to not need any particular further instruction, aside from what they'll get. In fact, I would expect any disproportionate attention to strict accuracy (except on formal papers later in school) to be more likely to backfire. If someone had made a Federal case out of comma use or spaces after periods, I would have tended to lose their respect and lose my interest in correctness too.

And yes, as was already pointed out, perhaps the best way to teach about the reasons for certain rules is with humorous examples of how they lead to miscommunication. However that too can be taken too far. I'll always remember my English teacher who would answer "Can I go to the bathroom?" with "No, you can't" with no clues until they somehow got they needed to ask, "May I go to the bathroom?" - "Yes, you may." He liked to play Simon Says with the class, too. But it didn't seem to teach many people who didn't already get it what he wanted them to know. They mainly thought we was being a kooky jerk.

  • True all. The comma is just an example of the issue I'm having. Of course my kids aren't educated enough at this point to know the difference. Should the teachers be encouraged to go "by the book"? Should they be humble enough to admit that they're wrong and WANT to do it the right way? I would, regardless of the subject. I'd be embarrassed to continue doing it wrong. In the end, I don't think I care enough to fight it.
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 0:41
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    Oh, and your tone is pedantic. You can look it up.
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 0:45
  • @StuW "Should" is a matter of opinion, so I'd choose what makes me feel best. I think where I myself would choose to get involved would be when/if they started treating certain styles as right/wrong and it was bugging the kids, but that's just me. I do think that once they start teaching a certain style and wanting students to follow it, that that style should be documented and consistent, and they should follow it themselves or not grade children based on compliance with it.
    – Dronz
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 0:55
  • Addressing the OP's concerns are what we try to do here; if you don't agree with the OP or can only find fault, you can move on to another question. Please read What should moderators do with answers that disagree with the premise of the question? Thanks. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 1:41
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    @anongoodnurse As the author of the answer, I insist that I meant no disrespect, and was honestly offering my opinion. I don't disagree at all that correct and consistent grammar is important. My suggestion to consider his own emotions is also meant as very practical and wise and friendly well-meant advice from my perspective from my own experiences.
    – Dronz
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 2:40

Teachers have to make a judgement call on what has a good enough time/reward ratio. Getting everyone spelling well with mostly good sentence structure is far more important than whether they correctly understand the usage of the Oxford Comma, and if you took the time to teach the latter, it would cut into the time available to teach the former.

If I were you, I'd bite my tongue for now, and teach it to your kids using examples and counter examples when you feel they're old enough to understand, but make sure they don't try and call the teacher out on it. Just let it slide and correct it yourself. Teachers have a hard enough job as it is! As long as they don't mark its usage as incorrect, then there isn't enough of a problem to make it worth chasing.

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    I like most of what you have to say. However, such issues in my district can easily be the difference in a lesser grade at the high school level. This district is ridiculously competitive. It IS important. I will probably drop it for now, but my question isn't really being answered
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 17:43
  • You aren't really addressing the OP's concerns here; you're telling him he's wrong. That's a no-no here; you don't have to answer a question you disagree with. Please read What should moderators do with answers that disagree with the premise of the question? Thanks Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 18:46
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    The Oxford comma never "breaks the meaning of the sentence." It is a style preference, not a sometime-hindrance to understanding. If you find an Oxford comma that ruins the meaning, please post it here, so I can eat crow publicly. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 18:47
  • Time Magazine, 2013: I love my parents, Humpty Dumpty and Lady Gaga. This is an example of its necessity.
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 4:00
  • @anongoodnurse, There was an example in the text that you removed from my post: Here's the link again. Essentially it's the same case at the pro-oxford comma statement by Stu W above, but with the singular; in the same way that his implies that Humpty Dumpty and Lady Gaga are the parents, "I love my mother, Humpty Dumpty, and Lady Gaga" implies that Humpty Dumpty is the mother. "I love my mum, Humpty Dumpty and Lady Gaga" does not suffer from the same ambiguity. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 17:18

Is the grammar school a real grammar school in the classical sense? Or, is it just an elementary school?

If it is a real grammar school, then you have a very valid point as the entire point of a school like that is to teach proper grammar, which is heavily based upon repetitive rote learning and modeling.

In other words, to do it the right way, they have to repeat something when teaching the children. That "something" may as well be their standard textbook.

If they are not following the standard, but claim to be a grammar school, then I would take it up with the principal or a C&I director.

However, if they are just a plain old elementary school then your concern doesn't really apply as classical grammar isn't what they do in the first place.


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