Monday, April 18, 2011


"The Good Grass", oil, by Justin Clements
If death has to do with rigidity, stiffness, and the absence of expansion and creativity, then I must confess that I occasionally find some signs of death here and there in my classroom. Ideas become dead when they shrink away from their own liveliness and settle into convenient categories, a process I’ve seen happen to too many of my initially spirited ideas. In the interest of having all things controlled and tidy in my teaching, I’ve too often found myself fitting my teaching into handy drawers, as though teaching a lesson was similar to setting silverware in its proper places. It’s happened, for sure, in my teaching of writing. I know all too well that an apparently well-arranged student paragraph can be little more than a convenient coffin for a few lifeless ideas, and a grammatically correct sentence can sound like dead men’s bones rattling. Yes, I might be able to occasionally get students to construct systematic, understandable essays, but sometimes writing of that sort can carry the scent of old cemeteries. Bringing life to the teaching of English means being in touch with the boundless and effervescent power of the very tools we use for our study – words. It means making room in the lesson for a little of the unrestrained liberty we see in grass growing again in the spring. Words, the stuff we use and study in my English classes, are loaded with life, which makes letting them die in lessons and student essays a sin of solemn proportions.

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