Monday, December 05, 2011


“Ineffable (adj): too great or extreme to be expressed in words”

     I’ll admit that I haven’t often thought of my students as being ineffable, but when I heard the word used this morning, I made the connection immediately. A friend was saying there was an ineffable loveliness in a landscape he saw at a museum on Saturday – a loveliness which simply couldn’t be expressed in words – and I instantly thought of my students’ essays, as well as their often profound but baffling comments during discussions. When the students write, they work out their thoughts as they construct their sentences, which sometimes makes for essays that are both majestic and mysterious. When I’m reading 9th grade papers, I sometimes have the sense that I’m in the presence of both ancient, shining ideas and universal confusion. The sentences occasionally skip along with a friskiness that any writing teacher would adore, but they can also spread out before me like an obscure and pathless forest. This somewhat charming situation becomes a problem when I have to evaluate and grade my students’ work. Their kind of mystifying, almost otherworldly abilities with written words is nearly impossible to categorize. It’s like placing a breeze in a box, or saying what a starry might looks like in six words. It’s the kind of ineffability I’m faced with when listening to a Lizst piano piece, or working with my inscrutable scholars in Room 2.

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