Teaching grammar to children who don’t see themselves as writers ensures that they will neither see themselves as writers nor learn grammar. Teaching grammar as a strategy for writing will ensure that students who see themselves as writers will write pinched prose. Writing is a way of thinking, and pinched writers become pinched people. When [...]
Still, the moral component persists in me. I guess it’s my hard-wired Calvinist-Strunkist upbringing. I still like to read a sourpuss like William Zinsser (On Writing Well, itself recently released in a thirtieth anniversary edition) just in case I’ve really backslidden. After reading that Times symposium this evening, I reread Strunk and White for the first time in five years. I’m happy to report that, unlike the last time I read the little book, I’ll have very little to unburden myself of in confession tomorrow.
I did have one of my professors pick me out of his giant English lit survey to take to lunch one day freshman year. I remember his pleasant patter at the University Cafeteria, but I never remembered anything he said. Like Stoner with his professor and, later, Stoner’s students with theirs, I must have been staring at my hands for most of the meal.
[This article appeared first in The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project's spring 2008 issue. I have made a few minor changes to it for publication here. My thanks to the Project for permission to republish.] Good courses teach me stuff I don’t know, but great courses are more like revelations of things I didn’t [...]
“But pray, sir, why must I not teach the young gentlemen?” “Because, sir, teaching young gentlemen has a dismal effect upon the soul. It exemplifies the badness of established, artificial authority. The pedagogue has almost absolute authority over his pupils: he often beats them and insensibly he loses the sense of respect due to them [...]
Allan Bloom starts his volume Shakespeare’s Politics (1964) where Flannery O’Connor leaves off: “The most striking fact about contemporary university students is that there is no longer any canon of books which forms their taste and their imagination.”
I like “like,” but I hate “wait.” Some of my snootier colleagues get around to expressing their exasperation with this generation’s overuse of “like,” but I never hear anyone complain about what drives me bats: my students’ use of “wait” in addressing me. For my entire five-year teaching career, most students have addressed me as [...]
[This] is a criticism of the tendency to burden institutions, especially educational institutions, with the impossible task of selecting the best. This should never be made their task. This tendency transforms our educational system into a racecourse, and turns a course of studies into a hurdle-race. Instead of encouraging the student to devote himself to [...]
Before I started teaching, I never thought that a high school English teacher is, or should be, a reading teacher. But literary criticism really is reading instruction, and we English teachers distill literary criticism into decoctions for our students to drink with challenging texts. That’s why I’m so thankful for the New Critics, despite my [...]
But think what you can do with “were (was) like” (and its cousin, “were (was) all”). Instead of merely quoting someone, you’re offering, to an extent that varies with the purpose, audience, and your own talents, a quick impersonation of the person quoted. Because that’s what you do when you start with “he was like” or “he was all”:
And she was like, “Get out of the bathroom! Now!” [“Now!” is presented as a shriek; speaker jumps up and down and starts pounding a wall or table.]
I wouldn’t expect that kind of a performance-sketch if you prefaced your quote with Mr. Tracy’s “they said” or “they reacted.”