Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I often ask my students to write in a rather formal manner, but I also encourage them to occasionally mix some funkiness with the formality. I want their sentences to be clear and orderly, but also a little jazzy now and then -- a bit of glitz and flashiness in the midst of their neat and methodical paragraphs. I thought about this again the other day when I was reading a student’s very tidy essay and came across these words: “Mr. Radley took his pants, messily fixed them up, and placed them primly on the fence.” The phrase “messily fixed them up” took me by surprise. It had a funky feel to it, a strange and distinctive quality that jumped up from the page. It was as if the voice of this girl -- who, like all students, is one of a kind – had suddenly and unmistakably spoken in the middle of her spick-and-span academic essay. The entire essay was a model of order and clarity, but there were a number of places, like this one, where the inner flashiness of this student could clearly be seen – places where the words, in a sense, broke the dress code. The writing was prim but also peculiar, stylish but also surprising. It’s a good way to write, I think -- sort of like showing up for an interview in a neatly pressed suit and brand new black sneakers.

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