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John Sanford, News Service (650) 736-2151; e-mail:

Alfred Grommon, professor emeritus of English and education, dead at 90

Alfred H. Grommon, a professor emeritus of English and education at Stanford, died March 17 at The Sequoias, Portola Valley. He was 90.

Grommon dedicated much of his scholarship to improving how English is taught in high schools and colleges.

Born in Utica, N.Y., he was a standout baseball pitcher while in high school, but he also was a gifted student. When St. Lawrence University offered him an athletic scholarship, he turned it down, choosing instead to attend Cornell University. He earned his bachelor's degree in English in 1933 and, shortly after graduating, began working as an English teacher at a high school in Trumansburg, N.Y. There he met his future wife, Helen McCurdy, who taught history. The couple married in 1935.

"It couldn't have been better," Helen said. "We had the same interests intellectually. We have had a wonderful life together."

Grommon continued teaching English in upstate New York public high schools until 1945 (with the exception of one year off for dissertation work) and also served as chairman of the English Department at Ithaca High School and as supervisor of student teachers from Cornell. In addition, he taught English and education courses between 1941 and 1945 as an instructor at the university.

He earned a doctorate in American literature in 1943 at Cornell and came to Stanford in 1945 as an assistant professor of education and English. He was director of Stanford's admission office from 1948 to 1950 and director of Freshman English from 1950 to 1956. He retired from Stanford in 1975.

As chair of a committee appointed by the College English Association of the San Francisco Bay Area, Grommon wrote, in an early 1950s report, that colleges supported high school English teachers' protests against being overloaded with classes and students, as well as with extra-curricular and community activities.

"The conditions the communities tolerate being imposed upon English instructors practically deny them time to teach adequately," Grommon wrote.

Grommon stressed the importance of teaching values in English classes. In a 1966 speech he prepared as president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), he wrote:

"I am not here suggesting that we should brainwash or indoctrinate our students with the values of those of us who are white, middle-class and religious. But I do believe that we should help students identify their own values and also those by which middle-class society tends to judge them. ... I am not suggesting either that we should read and teach literature as an exercise in chasing moralistic lessons. But I do mean that we can help students see the conflicts of values in a selection, to see what values the writer is advocating by the presence or absence of certain values."

James Gibbs, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor, Emeritus, remembers Grommon as "very gracious, very warm very thoughtful of other people."

"He was what you call a gentleman of the old school," Gibbs said.

Grommon served as associate director of the NCTE Commission on the English Curriculum. For two years he served as president of the California Association of English Councils (a forerunner of the California Association of Teachers of English). He also served on the California English Language Assessment Advisory Committee.

He contributed to and served in editorial positions for The Education of Teachers of English for American Schools and Colleges (published by the NCTE Commission on the English Curriculum) and the NCTE monograph Reviews of Selected Published Tests in English, among other publications and professional journals.

Grommon taught three times in the Stanford Overseas Studies Program: twice in Tours and once in Florence.

He is survived by his wife, to whom he was married for 65 years, and a nephew, Stephen Murtaugh of Clarence, N.Y.

No memorial service is planned.

"I don't want to tell people how to remember Al," Helen said. "I want them to remember him how they knew him."


By John Sanford

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