Monday, September 06, 2010

On Letting the Tools Do the Work

As I was sawing some stove wood this morning with an old-fashioned handsaw, I thought of my late father, and then of my young English students. Dad always told me to “let the tools do the work”. I’d be sweating away with a saw, forcing and shoving and slamming it through a log, and he’d come along and softly suggest that I simply let the saw do the work. The saw is a fine tool, he would say, but you have to lighten up and allow it to show its stuff. I remembered Dad’s advice this morning, and I also thought of my new students, whom I will greet on the first day of school tomorrow. They will be using many tools this year in English class, and I hope I can persuade them to loosen up a little and let the tools take them through the assignments. Words, for instance, are tools of tremendous power, and they are quite capable of making marvelous sentences and essays, if the students will only let them. You might be thinking that the students make the essays, not the words, and of course that’s true in one sense, but in another sense, we might say the words actually make the essay, just by being their matchless and spirited selves. A few words burst out of a student’s mind and into the essay, and those words, in their inimitability and feistiness, call forth more words, which in turn tell other words to take their place in the essay, and so on and so forth. Writing can almost be that easy – just standing out of the way, you might say, and trusting words to work their magic. Of course, some type of planning is indispensable, and the students must make sure the sentences are under a reasonable amount of control, but still, some faith in the force of words themselves is essential. I must convince the students that words, like handsaws, do their best work when we let them do their best work.

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