Monday, March 06, 2006

My final answer

I haven't completed the application yet, and it may take a few days. Tomorrow is a physical therapy appointment and a job interview (production editor, but something). But here is my essay about my four (and more) lessons. See below for what this is all about. Essay:

If I could teach my students only four things during the semester, I would teach them to read as if their lives depended on it, that they cannot know everything, but can learn how to find what they need to know, that writing is a way of thinking, and that the right word matters.

To read as if one’s life depends on it would be my first real lesson because I think it is key to everything. Unlike some teachers, I don't think that reading need be instructional, politically correct, or of high quality to have the desired effect — to open up the world for the student to its full 360°. I think the beginning student should read everything he or she can get their hands on, that, like panning for gold, the good stuff will sort itself out, and that as the student continues to read, she or he will be drawn to exactly what she or he needs. (However, I have very strong opinions about what I think is good literature, and I can tailor a reading list to the individual, to help a student find books that will stimulate and make him or her want more.)

The quantity of information that exists in this Information Age is daunting. Sophocles didn’t have this problem, nor did Shakespeare. Beginning students in the 21st century need to learn how to use the Internet and libraries (both!) to discern for themselves what is information and what is opinion, what is fact and what is fiction, what they need and what they don’t.

Writing is thinking. It requires sorting and ordering information. It isn’t easy. To get from the beginning of a sentence to its end requires using gray matter that for most American students is flabby and slack. But writing does not have to be intimidating, with word processors as allies. Getting something (anything) down on the page is the best way to start. And then you edit.

My fourth lesson, that the right word matters, is a lesson in precision. Whether writing an essay or a technical paper, I want my students to learn to focus their writing like a lens on what they are trying to persuade or explain or illustrate. If they are writing a poem, it should be equally important to get the precise word in the precise place. Don’t say nails when you mean screws, pants when you mean jeans. I think that it is important to care to get it right, that it matters that it matters.

The above are my four lessons. But I would also teach my students that life doesn’t have an undo button, that one person can make a difference, that they must love themselves before another can love them, and that a paragraph does not have to have five sentences. These last four lessons would only be to equalize the effect of high school and Hollywood and give us a good place to start.

Wish I were going to Austin.

If you can (I can't) and are anywhere near Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, California, go hear Robert read! You'll be glad you did.



Beverly said...

Your essay is wonderful. They would be lucky to have you.

Robert said...

I second that motion!