Thursday, September 10, 2009


The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes that extravagance is a quality my students need to assiduously address and eliminate from their work, and that its opposite, prudence, is a virtue they should make better friends with. Extravagance is simply wastefulness. The etymology suggests that it has something to do with aimlessly "wandering" around, living (and writing and reading) in a slapdash manner, using resources recklessly and needlessly. When students in my class write or read, they call upon their resources – mainly thoughts and words – and their duty is to use these resources in a judicious manner. Just as they shouldn’t recklessly fling their money around, so they should avoid using thoughts and words in a hasty and undisciplined way. Of course, it’s not surprising that my students tend to be wasteful with their mental resources in the classroom, when we remember that society as a whole is nothing if not wasteful. A sad kind of profligacy is a way of life these days, with self-indulgence apparently a far more sought-after quality than self-discipline. Growing up in a culture that throws out tons of refuse each day, it’s little wonder that young students don’t mind tossing some jumbled thoughts into an interpretation of a Dickens chapter or handfuls of superfluous words into a persuasive paper. The solution to this wastefulness, this happy-go-lucky extravagance, is an uncomplicated but sadly out-of-date virtue called prudence, which one of my dictionaries defines as “the wise use of resources”. It’s that simple, really. My students have a finite number of thoughts and words, and they must try to employ them in a cautious and calculated manner. As is true in the care of personal finances, they will find that this kind of attention to the guardianship of their mental resources will result in much higher profits in their English studies.

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