[NCTE-TALK:2383] Re: Should writing teachers write?

Wed, 17 Jan 1996 10:26:10 -0600

Martha, here are some thoughts about that fear of writing:

In one of my writing handbooks, there is a little poster that says "There
is no stronger desire than the wish to change/revise/fix/edit someone else's
paper." (Each word in the slashed group is crossed out except for the last,
leaving you wondering how long it will last; draw it yourself to really get the
idea.) As a student, I can tell you how true this is. Last semester, I got
back a paper that had almost as much blue ink (prof. comments and revisions) as
type. As I read the comments, I thought "Bullshit." A few of them were valid-
-I remember I used "however" too often--but most of them were stylistic differe
nces. I'm not a 10th grader here. I know how to write. My professor argued a
bout my placement of semicolons and several other punctuation choices. The sam
e style of usage was praised by my previous professors.
As I read the comments, it became clear that my prof. didn't actually
understand the paper. It was quite complex, following four topics through ten
poems, so I was afraid of this. I revised and revised; the paper couldn't have
been any clearer. The prof. argued I was saying words were equivalent when I
actually went to great pains to say they weren't.
My grade? An "A--." What the heck is that? Either it was an A-, or it
was a B+. Had I received the B+, I would have argued the point. Instead, I
just let it go. I ended up wondering if the prof. thought he was doing me a
Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The paper probably wasn't
as clear as I thought, but he shouldn't have told me my style was wrong. Heck,
it could be the prof. actually DID me a favor, and I'm just too stubborn to
see it. I guess the whole point is that when we write, we expose ourselves
to people to be judged. Those people have different styles and opinions, and
may not agree with ours. (For example, someone probably just screamed about
that comma between "opinions" and "and." Well, *I wanted a pause, even if it
isn't absolutely needed.) Some of these people cannot accept anything that var
ies from their ideal picture of writing.
Fortunately, I've been doing this writing business long enough that this
one incident only made me mad for one day, rather than turn me off of writing.
I enjoy writing papers when I know the professor doesn't agree with my stance.
That adds a challenge. If I do my job, the professor can't argue. However, in
this case, the prof. just didn't grasp the ideas. If I had been in ENG 1000,
this would have turned me off rather badly. (I had papers just as marked up
in Freshmen English, but they DESERVED to be.) Again, I could just be
stubborn, but I don't think that's all of it.
So, if your student can explain WHY he/she felt the need for a comma
splice, or fragment, or whatever, you have to ask "Is that a valid reason? Doe
s this student actually understand the implications of this choice?" If yes,
you can't automatically say "Sorry, it says on page 54 of Warriner's. . ."
You may suggest alternatives, but don't just automatically dismiss the student'
s choice. If "no," you should explain the rules to the student. Once they
understand the rules, they can move on to making freer choices. (By the way, my
paper had no comma splices or run-ons<g>.)
That's my two cents worth for now! --Shane Marshall

"Good men must not obey the laws too well" --Emerson