[In keeping with our comments policy, this manifesto on educational policy by Clayton Burns has been relocated from the comments section of a post to which it was not really relevant]

One of the President's first acts should be to order a careful analysis of American education, starting with a formal audit of practices in the teaching and testing of English.

Infuriating is the only word that could capture the parasitism of the English language by ETS, Kaplan, College Board, and Pearson, among the most evil practitioners.

What does it mean to be able to read Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, James, and Dickinson? Why don't we have an American Literature Grammar? Why is American Linguistics so awkwardly aligned with American literature?

Why has America in effect ignored the corpus revolution in Linguistics, now 20 years old, in teaching literature? In teaching "The Scarlet Letter," why do we fail to extract full value from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary online, and the http://www.oed.com and http://www.m-w.com sites? Why are we so confused that we don't even know enough to make the COBUILD Intermediate English Grammar official for the country as a source for the patterns in "The Scarlet Letter"?

There is only one great teaching grammar of English for beginning and junior high students, the COBUILD Intermediate. At the Language Log blog, why do we never see careful systematic analysis of what needs to be done to teach the sound systems of English, the vocabulary, and the grammar? Why are professors so negligent? Why can't they respond intelligently to Alan Finder's "Unclear on American Campus" with an official database of lyric poems?

Why do students have so little understanding of how to construct memory pages so that they would have a subtle grasp of 60 verb elements of the past and 10 conditions? Why do teachers stupidly recommend that students write in the present tenses about literature?

The best way to refine our teaching of grammar would be for the federal government immediately to commission four major universities to develop a grammar corpus of American literature from about 1840 to 1940. "The Scarlet Letter" would be an excellent starting point. In "Hester at her Needle," the word that the Puritan children say is terrible for the wearer of the "A:" "It seemed to argue so wide a diffusion of her shame, that all nature knew of it…". Here we have a cluster of clauses (manner and result) that would become exceptionally powerful in Melville and Henry James. It is the master cluster of American fiction, better expressed in these writers than in any British novelists. Better even than in "Great Expectations." Even than in Hardy. Or in "Jane Eyre."

Powerfully, Hawthorne in this chapter integrates manner and result with counterfactual conditions: the Puritanic word to Hester "could have caused her no deeper pang, had the leaves of the trees whispered the dark story among themselves,–had the summer breeze murmured about it,–had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud!"

When the modern student "reads" such a text under the direction of the distracted modern teacher, it is usually just a rapid once-over for the story. We often pay little attention to the writing, so that what we have far downstream is fly-away concentration, fantastical manipulations on Wall Street, lawyers' illiterate churning for cash, and rank parasitism in higher education.

The new President has made the claim that he reads a lot of history and fiction. Let him prove that he understands the urgency of asking fundamental questions about the slovenly teaching and testing of English in the schools and universities of America.

A good chair of the 2009 American English Audit would be John Sinclair, the founding editor of COBUILD. Paper Cuts could find out by independent interviews if students could read "The Scarlet Letter," learn the vocabulary up to the standards in the three online dictionaries I have mentioned, and the grammar patterns in the COBUILD Intermediate. This project would be one trillion times more valuable than a spelling bee.

The New York Times could offer a $10,000 reward to the American school student who could best complete this project during this year, up to the end of August. The fake trillion dollar banknote of American education should be withdrawn.