I don’t think the New York Times‘s “outrage” over preschool suspensions or the implementation of its suggestions found in today’s editorial will amount to much. I submitted this comment: I wonder if the inappropriate discipline of preschoolers is in part due to, and not counter to, what the editorial board describes as “the very mission […]
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 […]
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.”
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.
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 […]
You took driver’s ed to learn how do drive a car; you didn’t have to take a course in automobile mechanics to get your license. Am I right? So how about English grammar? They tried to teach me about adverb clauses, past participles, and indefinite pronouns. Just so I could write, I guess. But I […]
A federal trial court judge’s clerk usually handles the prisoner petitions. When I clerked, I would read the petitions, research them, and write an order for my judge to sign deciding the case. Most of the research was in constitutional law because prison administrators have a lot of leeway in running their prisons with only […]
On Modern bestsellers: a lack of 18th-century leisure and 19th-century boredom. Having dropped out of Little Dorrit after the first trimester, I am determined to see Bleak House through. I’ve been listening to a delightful audio recording. I woke up on an elliptical machine from a protracted daydream yesterday, though, and found that I had […]
[This article appeared first in The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project‘s winter 2008 issue. I have made a few minor changes to it for publication here. My thanks to the Project for permission to republish. I discuss the philosophical underpinnings of my objections to the prevalence of literary analysis essay assignments in high school […]