When teaching middle class students from fairly homogeneous educational backgrounds, it’s easy to assume that by college age, they know how to write. It’s even easy to accept that grammar should be a peripheral topic in a college-level writing class, if it is to be included at all.

But this simply isn’t true in a more socioeconomically diverse setting, where the educational background students receive can be unreliable and where a command of written English can mean the difference between getting ahead and going to jail.

There’s a stark contrast between the grammar and syntax I’ve taught to students who already wrote with a high degree of fluency and the grammar I’m teaching to students who have powerful voices yet need a command of prescriptive grammar in order to be taken seriously or treated justly.

I feel the value of grammar keenly when I see a student struggle to express himself in writing. I feel it keenly when he learns and writes, and when he sees that others understand and respect what he has to say.