Engfish Considered

Our class discussion on Friday really got me thinking about my English education, and how I have matured as a writer.  The earliest thing I can remember from English education was in my 7th grade with Mr. Colvin.  Mr. Colvin was tough, really tough, especially with grammar.  The man was an absolute grammar fiend, and if I were to even consider using “And” to start a sentence, or if I forgot a comma where it was needed, I would lose the credit necessary to get an “A” on the paper.  Yeah, that’s where it all began, being my high school English education.  It only worsened from there, as in my junior year I was told by my AP Language teacher that my writing was “…good, but needed improvement.  You are not using enough sophisticated language.”  That is a quote from an email I received from Mr. Yen, who continued to expand on this concept in class then next day.  He said that students who write well, with great grammar and flow do not do well on the AP, and in the writing profession.  He stated that great writing is utilizing great language.  So because my pieces had not used enough “S.A.T.” type words, my writing, according to Mr. Yen, was not meeting par.   I was shocked, and really upset.  I asked my mom what to do, and she really had no answer.  And looking back on it, I am not mad at her for having no answer, not disappointed in the least.  Because as I have progressed as a writer, I have realized that writing is the most difficult thing to teach.  If someone has an issue with math, has an issue with science, or does not understand a concept in Social Studies, they can go to the teacher and get a concrete answer.  But, go to your professor and discuss why you got a C on your last paper, and the resolution becomes a lot more difficult to explain, and the process to improve becomes a lot more shady, a lot less ambiguous.  So yes, I do understand how difficult it is to teach writing, but I still think Mr. Colvin’s and Mr. Yen’s method to teaching was absolutely wrong.  You cannot force a student to curb to your method of writing because by doing so, you are not letting them find what works and what doesn’t; they need to develop their own voice.  And the best way to do that?  I really don’t know.  But I got ever so close to learning from a class I took last semester.

Last semester I took Engl 102, Texts in Time, with Professor Kaplan.  And to this point, I have to say that no other professor has had a better impact on my writing than he had.  He told me to find my own voice, write the way I wanted to , and more than anything, make the point of my paper, my thesis, more apparent and self evident than ever.  And that was it.  That was all he told me throughout the entire semester.  We had 4 papers throughout the semester, only 1 of which a set topic.  The other 3 were up to us students.  We were able to write about any part of the novel we were reading, and had the opportunity to express our opinions pretty blatantly as a result.  And because of these 3 papers and such minimal guidance, I gained the most out of any writing class.  Kaplan took the back seat, had discussion with us each class about the novels, but NEVER forced his opinion or writing style upon us.  Instead, he let us take the reins.  For the first time in my life, I began to self evaluate my voice, and my style of writing.  I began to figure my own faults, instead of having teachers pick out what was spelled wrong, what was grammatically incorrect, and how limited my vocabulary was. I began to form my own style and learned rather quickly that my vocabulary was the least bit limited.  Instead, it was quelled by my high school teachers and former professors because they trapped me in a mold that defined what an A paper was.  But with writing, there is no mold.  There is no right, there is no wrong. And that is what makes people so angry, because writing has no one answer.  There can be 30 papers that are all extremely strong, but may all be written in 30 ridiculously different styles.  So my point here is that writers need to find their voice, and the way teaching of the subject is done at this point is quelling creativity, writing style, and genius in the field.   I hope it will be changed more towards Kaplan’s methods in the future, because if not, writing will continue to become a less-respected and seemingly obsolete skill, when it is the farthest thing from that.

Just something to chew on while watching a little football,

-Aaron

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