Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Not too long ago, “whatever” was a reply in common use by teenagers, and today I got to thinking that I could profitably employ it now and then in English class. The word is generally used to emphasize a lack of restriction, as in “Do whatever you like”, or “Take whatever action is needed”, and I occasionally find myself needing to say exactly that to my students. Sometimes, when they’re writing an essay, they need to break away from the various academic curbs and constraints they’re accustomed to and just do “whatever”. That’s what writers from Shakespeare to Joyce Carol Oates did, and sometimes it’s what youthful writers need to do – just go for it, take a gamble, put it on the line. Being attentive to directions and rubrics is important, but so is going for broke every so often. I think of athletes in this regard – basketball players, for instance. No game is more restricted by boundaries and rules than basketball, and yet I’ve often heard of coaches telling their players before a game to just “go out there and have fun”. Sometimes coaches will say “play loose” and “don’t think too much” and “play like when you were kids”. Essentially they’re saying, “Do whatever”, and I need to say that to my students now and then. When the kids get so caught up in directives and requirements that writing with force and authenticity becomes an utter impossibility, I need to call a time out and remind them that written words should be windows to the heart, not white flags of surrender to a thousand rules. Like a coach, I sometimes need to say (maybe even shout), “Go for it! Take a chance! Let out the sails! Put the pedal to the metal! You’re only 14 once! Write whatever!”

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