Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Reading Book XI of Paradise Lost before school this morning, I came across the phrase “conformity divine”, and, thinking about it later, I wondered if that’s what I’m asking from my English students. Conformity, after all, is not always a negative act, one of self-abasement and selling out. In its purest sense, the word simply means fitting into a form – adapting one’s self to a particular method or a specific arrangement. When I dress for school each morning, in a sense I am “conforming”, since I’m fitting myself into forms of clothes that appeal to me – clothes that help me present an appealing “form” both to myself and to the public. If I studied the art of welding, I’m sure I would conform to the methods and strategies of my welding teacher – and I would become a better welder by doing so. Even something as simple as water filling a pot speaks of the naturalness and grace of conformity. As the water flows into the pot, it effortlessly adapts to the shape of the pot, a type of conformity that water has been stylishly performing for eons. I guess I want my students to conform the way water does – naturally and elegantly. When their thoughts flow into an essay, I hope the words fill up the sentences and paragraphs like water fills up a pot, with ease. I hope the students can adjust to the constraints of each writing assignment the way a stream flows easily into narrow channels and then simply spreads out when the banks widen. With water, conformity is always beautiful – “divine”, as Milton has it – and I hope it can be so with my students.

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