« On One-Draft Writers, Hobgoblins and Dyslexia (which probably isn't that funny) | Main | Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream »

Center Stage On The Mic (Let Me Clear My Throat)

I don't know who this Joseph Williams guy is, but I'd like to buy him a drink. I think Kirsten mentioned in class once that a previous class had ripped Style to shreds, which is interesting to me; I think I agreed with pretty much everything in those first twenty pages or so.

What I would like to focus on, at least for the moment, are the tutoring implications here. Specifically, I'm thinking of how to deal with the "Invented Rules," as Williams (can I call him Big Willie Style?) calls them. Those are rules I wrestle with all of the time; let's say that I want to prominently split an infinitive. But someone could come along, read what I've written, and just assume that I'm borderline-illiterate for breaking such an obvious rule. That's a trade-off I'm usually willing to make, although I still catch myself doing stupid crap like writing convoluted sentences just to avoid ending on a preposition. (I think I've even done that on this blog once or twice.)

Anyway, my point: how should we deal with that kind of risk-taking in a paper that isn't ours? Especially when the writer isn't even aware that they're (and there are all kinds of fun things to say about the gender bias stuff, too) breaking a pseudo-rule. Especially especially if English isn't the writer's first language. Then, maybe it's easier to just say "hey, it's a bad idea to start your sentences with 'but'". That throws us directly in conflict with the minimalist tutoring idea, though: we really ought to stop and explain the how "this rule isn't really a rule, but lots of people think it's a rule, so maybe it's best just to follow it anyway." I could see that doing a lot more harm than good, though.

Most (nearly all?) of the people who come into the center aren't going to be nearly as interested in grammarian politics as I am; they just want to figure out how to write a paper their professor won't hate. I probably don't have the right to try to force my love of "nontraditional Capitalization" on them; instead, I should probably just help them get through it. It's related to the idea of keeping our expectations in line for any given consultations; since we can't cover everything, it's probably best to focus on more pragmatic goals.

Hmmmmm. I work Monday mornings, and I can get grumpy on short sleep. It'd probably be for the best if I put a lid on this for now.

Comments

Yeah, I can't even imagine tutoring anyone to learn those rules...In fact, they don't even seem like rules to me, but more like..conflicting ideas? How do you decide when to point an "errors" like those out in a student's paper? Especially when someone might unknowingly re-correct the error later for them. I already miss my life pre-Style lessons 1&2, when I was innocent and didn't constantly question the kinds of grammar rules that change all the time. Life was so easy back then. *sigh*

It was funny reading the first two chapters, since I guess I'm pretty spoiled when it comes to grammar. I would think to myself: "What? We're not suppose to begin sentences with And? Oops. Oooh, 'impact' can't be used as a verb? Totally missed that."

I constantly break a lot of the "rules" said in the book, and after what you said about the problem of teaching the "right" thing to students, I too am confused now about how we should guide students to write when it comes down to these grammar folklores. So maybe on top of letting students know that they could use "and" to start a sentence, we should also ask who their audience is & if they could think of alternative ways to connect their ideas together.

hehehe go "nontraditional Capitalization"!

I sort of feel like I have just arrived on another planet, begun observing the locals and their culture and now sit frozen: fight or flight? This is not a particularly strange feeling for me to be having-- I had to explain to my well-educated father last week that criteria is in fact the plural of the oft-ignored criterion and that he sounded like an idiot.

Point being, I am appalled that you all enjoyed Style so much! I don't want to insult anyone, but my first impression upon reading the first two chapters was something along the lines of "Are you fucking kidding me? Style-schmyle! Harris looks like a bloody genius compared to this guy!" I have a shirt that says "I judge you when you use poor grammar" and I'm not afraid to wear it. (Actually, I'm a little afraid to wear it at the center because I could make someone feel really bad and I'm not as big of a meanie as I sound right now).

Moral of the story? Be warned: I will mock you mercilessly if you say "None of the reasons are sufficient to end the project" or "less resources" or-- as Williams neglects to discuss-- "To insure a good grade, proofread your paper."

On a slightly more helpful note: if you're into this sort of thing, or have a student who is especially concerned about usage, the Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style is excellent.

i like maggie's idea of "conflicting ideas" rather than rules, because it seems to offer a nice tutoring option for us (since john so usefully posed the question). what if, when unsure of a student's intention, we mention that some people consider 'x' a rule, and some disagree and see it as flexible. that allows the student to think about their intention, what their prof might be looking for, etc...and make the choice themselves. sort of introducing the debate rather than feeling the need to tell someone a definitive answer. maybe not always practical, but fits in with the idea of social contructionism. it acknowledges writing as part of different discourses, with different /changing expectations.

Emily;

You're definately not alone in thinking like that. And, I suppose, that's sort of the issue that I was trying to get at originally: the conflict between how I write, and how I should help students with their writing.

I usually take a "know-the-rules-to-break-them" approach to grammar; not always, mind you, but I like to know what's "accepted practice," if you will. Knowing that, I can strategically follow or break those "rules" to get a desired effect. And that's all well and good.

I don't think, however, that that's necessarily a position I should. . .make known in a consultations, for reasons exactly as you described. Someone out there will see their split infinitive, and instead of giving that writer the benefit of the doubt that the choice was intentional, that hostile reader will assume the writer illiterate.

That's the trade-off of treating grammar as suggestions, not rules (much like, say, speed limits). But should we be trying to avoid that in the papers we consult on? I suspect so. Like I said before, most of the students who come in have extremely pragmatic goals (as in, "help me not fail this assignment"), and even allowing for the whole "improve the person, not the paper" idea which I like so much, I'm not sure I have the right to begin preaching blasphemous grammar.

I'm worried that I'm beginning to talk (type?) in circles here; perhaps it's best if I end now. Was that coherent?. . .