Saturday, January 12, 2008

Richard Grayson is a Good Teacher

I just want to reiterate that I am really really happy that Richard, a teacher and writer who left a comment on this blog the other day, is not dead, so happy that I want to let his comment float to the top of Brooklynometry for a minute as it contains a great deal of sanity and balance. And I need sanity and balance. It's a little alarming I suppose that my rancor was so extreme in Freedom for Spellers that someone would think I actually wished anyone harm. I don't! I just don't want the attacks of a sanctimonious hegemony to sway people from their attempts at self expression and their right to free speech.

Anyway, here are Richard's words, I hope he doesn't mind.

"...Apostrophes are a fairly recent development in the English language; however, as I said, it's (!) hard for me to not get annoyed when I see "its/it's" misused.

Perhaps it will cheer you to know that I have just stopped correcting this error because it is so prevalent. I have to fight my ingrained tendency (reinforced by three years of law school and another seven years of working as a law school faculty member and administrator) to hyper-correct.

Students often misspell my name, their own names, the names of the authors they are writing about (at Borough of Manhattan Community College last semester our English 101 final was on readings by Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, and most students spelled at least one of the three names incorrectly -- clearly understandable given the sound of "Fredrick," "Douglas," and "Malcom" but it's a carelessness that still manages to annoy me).

Many of the rules of grammar I learned are arbitrary. Bishop Louth was, in many ways, moronic in his prescriptions. There is no logical reason to avoid double negatives, as other languages do it without "two negatives making a positive" (an inapt analogy derived, obviously, from mathematics).

A generation ago I used to correct things that have stopped even bothering me. I used to worry about the who/whom distinction because it was stressed on us as early as fourth and fifth grades; now I correct only a mistaken use of "whom" as a subject pronoun. I used to correct students who wrote, "Everyone needs to watch their language." Now I assume it's correct (though of course their is usually spelled there or they're).

These are trivial issues, actually, in teaching composition today. Conveying meaning, organizing and developing ideas, and avoiding egregious syntax errors or choppy, simplistic prose are far more important than "error correction."

I sometimes have to explain to students that a paper without grammatical errors is not necessarily an "A" paper.

I blame that on the same kind of "gotcha" grammar mentality that was decried in this post.

But there are many ways people try to show their superiority over others. Mean people suck."

By the way Richard Grayson is running for Congress in Arizona. I hope he makes his campaign slogan "mean people suck."


Richard said...

You're very kind. I feel a bit embarrassed, though grateful.

Like most teachers, I have good days and bad days in the classroom.

Some teachers are a good match for some students and not others. When I was an academic support director at a law school, I'd invariably have one student come into my office and tell me how awful a professor was only to have my next appointment tell me that the same professor was the best teacher she'd ever had.

I am going to be teaching two classes (Creative Writing Workshop and The Short Story) scheduled by Borough of Manhattan Community College on the Brooklyn College campus on weekends this spring if enough students register for them, and I expect any students who do will have their own ideas about whether I'm a good teacher.

Thanks again for the kind words.

amarilla said...

Well, you really wrote a lot, in a rather lucid way, and that was generous of you. I wish all students had such generous teachers with similarly high standards, that's a good formula, isn't it?