“Clever talk alarmed her, and withered her delicate imaginings; it was the social counterpart of a motor-car, all jerks, and she was a wisp of hay, a flower.”
-- E. M. Forster, Howards End
I have never been interested in fostering “clever talk” in my classroom, or in my life. It’s the slick and glassy talk of those who love to speak words but are not often concerned about the substance of the words. It’s the way people speak who are always prepared to pretend they know thousands of truths, but are rarely ready to descend into those truths and shine serious lights on them. Clever talk comes in fusillades and cascades, so dense and unceasing that all you want to do is disappear from it. I’m much more interested in the opposite of clever talk, which might be called straightforward talk, or user-friendly talk, or just plain talk. This is the kind of talk that sort of takes you by the hand and leads you to one or two modest ideas. It speaks with simplicity and saneness, and with the purest of words. It sets out a few simple thoughts for careful consideration, and then sometimes just stops. Plain talk, unlike clever talk, takes pride in using as few words as possible. It wants to work out the truth, not put on a performance. In my classroom, there aren’t many verbal performances, not many manifestations of oral sorcery. I want the students to state the simplest of thoughts in the clearest of ways, and if this means occasional hesitancy and uncertainty in our discussions, like the unsettled fluttering of wisps of hay, then so be it. After all, in the midst of the hesitancy and uncertainty there might shine the always mild light of truth.