I teach the same books over and over and over again.
Starting a new year makes us particularly conscious of time. Time makes us conscious of limitations. And, contrary to the spirit of the age (at least prior to 2020), this is good, because limitations allow for definitions.
When we pretend we don't live on a calendar that comes to an end and has a beginning, we try to pretend in turn that we are immortal beings whose angelic imaginations can achieve any ends. That's how we fall.
A teacher recently asked me for a list of writing rules I use as a professional editor. Grammatical mistakes aside, I find myself making the same edits consistently. In case you too want to clean up your writing – or your students – I've listed below the rules I use as a writer and editor. Some of these are stylistic, but assuming a somewhat formal context, they tend to universally apply. I hope you find them helpful!
1. Never use a big word when a simpler one will suffice. To do otherwise is loquacious.
I once read somebody who called Elie Wiesel "a professional whiner." I remember thinking, "Wow, that is a disproportionate response." Or at least, "Man, that's not fair."
All my life, I have relied on people with more insight, skill, and wisdom than I have to help me maneuver my way through this confusing, over-informed, unprincipled world. I'm not ashamed of that because I have no choice. You do it too, and so does everybody else. It arises from that world-famous "human condition" you hear so much about.
In a blog post about sports, let me first begin by quoting C.S. Lewis on textbooks.
When was the last time you got lost? Lost while traveling through town? Lost in a store? Lost in a book? Lost in an activity? When was the last time you allowed yourself to get lost?
Americans are an overpraised people. The excess of praise in the average American’s life begins quite young, for not only do we give medals for twelfth place in youth soccer leagues, there are also graduation ceremonies which conclude kindergarten and sixth grade (and eighth grade), three or four levels to the school honor roll, participation ribbons, non-participation ribbons, and the sort of good old-fashioned grade inflation which now ensures every last student in this country is well above average.
I recently spoke to a group of new classical teachers about how to embody classical values in their classrooms through practices and routines—habits. I quoted heavily from Something They will Not Forget by Joshua Gibbs and You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith.
I spoke with passion. I cracked a few jokes. But they just looked scared.
At the end, one teacher was brave enough to raise his hand. “But you couldn’t have been like this your first year,” he said. “You had to start somewhere. I mean, I’m not Joshua Gibbs.”
“Oh, freedom!” came the chant from among the planted rows, and still it rings in divers places, “Freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.”
But elsewhere, far across the divided house, more trenchant voices defy it. Give them liberty or give them death! What was life, asked Patrick Henry, that it should be “purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”
Ms. Morgan assigned her students a one-thousand-word essay on Frankenstein, due at the end of the semester. In her class of twelve, one student essay was quite brilliant, another essay a little less so, half a dozen were satisfactory, and four were poor. This was the typical spread, though. The four students who had written poor essays on Frankenstein had written poor essays on Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist, as well. Ms. Morgan spent around three hours of her evening grading the poor essays. Red ink covered each page. She circled misspelled words.