Being a long time fan of Edward Tufte, going back to when I was sufficiently intrigued by his regular quarter page ads in Harpers to track down his books at the Pitt library, as well as being a Common Core obsessive, I couldn't resist one-click ordering a copy of Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, which is name-checked in one of the ELA standards.
Also, as you have no doubt noticed, Gentle Reader, my own syntax is, at best, turgid; so perusing this text could hardly hurt.
Artful Sentences is a compendium of example sentences illustrating various syntactic constructs and concepts. I'd imagine anyone who teaches grammar, syntax, writing, etc. to high school students on a regular basis would consider it well worth their sixteen bucks to provide some freshness and inspiration. However, it strikes me as rather gnomic for use by high school students, particularly as worded by the standard:
Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed...
For example, there is nothing between the title and chapter one, "Short Sentences," except a table of contents and acknowledgements. Whatever the book is for, how it might be used, what point of view it represents, what aesthetic stance, is only determined by the reader by reading the book, which has a certain elegance, but doesn't result in something that seems approachable and practical to most high school writers, and certainly not something that would be very helpful in the context described by the standard, as a sort of handy student reference.
One wonders how that reference got in there in the first place. In the previous draft, language standard 3 in both high school levels was simply:
Make effective language choices.
a. Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual.
Fairly useless. The full standards that replaced it in the final draft are:
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
(9th & 10th) a.Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., MLA Handbook, Turabian’s Manual for Writers) appropriate for the discipline and writing type.
(11th & 12th grade) a. Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed; apply an understanding of syntax to the study of complex texts when reading.
I'd argue that the 9th and 10th grade standard is clear and sufficient for "college- and career-readiness." I can picture 12 people sitting around a table in a windowless conference room, drinking bad coffee, feeling compelled to think of something to differentiate a 12th grade version of the standard and finally setting on this thing.
Out of curiosity, I did a full text search on "syntax" through the rest of the document. In 11th & 12th grade writing standard 1.c:
Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
11th and 12th grade writing 2.c:
Use appropriate and varied transistion and syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
In both of the above cases (and their equivalents in the redundant discipline-specific standards) the only differences from the 9th and 10th grade standards are inclusion of the italicized sections on syntax.
To be sure, one would hope that 12th graders would use more fluent and varied syntax than 10th graders, but I'm dubious about the pride of place it receives in these standards, as one of only a few consistent differences between under and upperclassmen in English. Will 11th and 12th grade curricula aligned to the Common Core inherit a much greater emphasis on explicitly teaching students to use varied and complex syntax? Should that be regarded as the primary difference between writing at these levels? Will essays with simple syntactic structures receive failing grades from automated essay scorers? Time will tell.
The title of this post, by the way, is a dinnertime quote from Vivian, at age three demonstrating her mastery of grade 4 language standard 1.a.