Wednesday, September 16, 2009
connoisseur of style (manuals)
as i settle into my new life in langley, bc, i am re-entering a place i haven't been in a while: the academic world of patrick henry college. by that i mean that i'm mostly returning to the basic lessons i learned there and applying them as i begin to teach foreign students who aspire to attend north american graduate school. in my usual cavalier style, i have dismissed most of the stuff handed to me and insisted on reinventing the wheel. instead of looking to one textbook, i am culling through all the collective manuals i have consulted in the past, like strunk & white and my old rhetoric book. i am also taking lessons from other style manuals that are new to me, such as joseph williams's book.
this is not to say that for the last several years i haven't ever consulted the trusty old elements of style, or that the lessons taught to me were forgotten and left unapplied. indeed, dr. smith's rhetoric class was one of the best classes on how-to-BS that i've ever taken (it also taught me about substance, fyi). but i am consulting them more often as i attempt to go about teaching writing myself. it is true, what they say about teaching. you never learn it better than when you teach. this summer, for example, i taught a philosophy class and finally acquired an actual affinity for aristotle that i had been pretending to have for years. going back through these style manuals has really turned me into a beast of style. whether it's a good or bad beast remains yet to be seen.
on a separate note, i wonder what mrs. bergel, my 11th grade english teacher, would say if she knew i were teaching writing. she would probably be proud (and confused). though in truth, my ability to write really has nothing to do with her. in fact, she almost turned me away from writing with her withering red slashes. she was one of those frustrating teachers who would destroy my papers on account of poor writing but never offer a helping hand. now that i think about it, i don't think i ever had a teacher lend a helping hand. i just learned at some point, i guess? i remember my 12th grade teacher enjoyed my writing much more, and i felt empowered. but i don't think i really got a handle on writing until somebody handed me a copy of strunk & white. or rather, made me buy a copy. so perhaps i should thank dr. smith. he had the same withering red pen (i once watched him grade a stack of complex bibliography exercises without ever consulting a manual himself; the man was a certifiable genius), but at least he gave me the tools to correct it myself.
incidentally, i would like to say that having gone through several other style manuals, i still believe strunk & white is perfectly useful. anyone who doesn't take a style manual with a grain of salt should have their head examined. yeah, strunk & white can seem a little bossy at times, but so can the people who excoriate it so viciously.
EDIT: for all you wonderful people who are reading this (none, i suspect), don't take this post as an opportunity to write nasty comments on my style and grammar. it's a blog for strunk's sake!