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In the past few years, I’ve taught nonfiction writing to undergraduates and graduate students at Harvard, Yale, Bard, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.
They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.
That kind of writing — clear, direct, humane — and the reading on which it is based are the very root of the humanities, a set of disciplines that is ultimately an attempt to examine and comprehend the cultural, social and historical activity of our species through the medium of language.
This is a great article read the rest at the nytimes.com
Liberty of Thinking said:
Great storytellers were born, learned reading by reading great stories written before by talented predecessors, learned writing by writing their developing talent, and so on, and so forth…
Today, writing is taught by writers who teach others how to write writings…
There was a time when art came by the the touch of a muse…
Today, you need the touch of a keyboard dialing you credit card payment’s details at some “school of journalism” site…
And the mighty editor’s gonna tell you what to write…
Clyde of Mankato said:
I taught high school English for 24 years and left, burned out on correcting writing and tutoring. If you do not give each student full attention, how can they improve? I taught mostly journalism, AP English, and college prep English. My last semester in 1991 teaching in a small high school in northern Minnesota, I had three sections of college prep with a total of 93 students, two sections of AP English with a total of 48 students, and one section of journalism with 31 students. That totals 172 students.
Worse the pressure is so high to teach students to write for freshman comp in college, which is not at all about the kind of writing of which you speak, that you cannot teach students to write naturally, expressively, simply, and personally. Only in journalism can you teach direct and simple, precise, and clear writing. My students have often told me that my college prep courses got them through college and the journalism course is getting them through life. But still, it is not personal and expressive.
Jilanne Hoffmann said:
So these students then become literary theorists. That explains everything. :o)
JPF Goodman said:
Rather than being forced into retreat, I think the principles of good writing should apply to other areas – clear communication, clarity of thinking and a respect for civilized values – before we are all buried by “the rise of the machines”!
propaganda, how do i sound, being compared night and day, forced to accept things because of peer pressure, fear of being isolated, the list is long, i think younger folks are smarter than ever, just a little shy with their thoughts, and why wouldn’t they, see what happens to the truth speakers, not just “edward the latest”, but all those who tried to tip the scales of justice..young folks know all this, now they know that even the government spies on them, who wouldn’t be insecure with their thoughts
i’m clueless with some of your sentences :) can understand what a suffix is more than what a noun or adverb is :) but if we feel the need to write then write we must. :)
may i ask if you have ever heard of a 1920’s author, Ernest Weekley,M.A (not sure what an M A is.)?
he was the head of the Modern Language Department in University College Nottingham and produced a rather powerful essay on The English Language (Benn’s Sixpenny Library, no.35).
anyway, i’m just trying to say that i’m sure i could learn alot from yourself, as so far, Ernest Weekley’s 35 has been my only dissertation on the English language.
(p.s, i hope you don’t mind my lack of capital letters, i believe they should be used more sparingly :) )
George Orwell wrote an essay on how politics depends on obscuring the truth which we see now in the US: Politics and the English Language
maybe being hard to fathom is a necessary art in some positions
I was in a graaduate course for Education at Johns Hopkins and student taught two sections of English 11 honors and one section of 12 th grade AP students. When I finished my 6 months of supervised teaching between the writing and the dumbing down on actually studying what makes a novel work I dropped out of the program because I couldn’t see teaching as anything but boring.>KB
Tiffany Coffman said:
Great article! Thank you for sharing!
Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.
Think this paragraph says so much and I agree 100% with this!