Some Good Advice for New Students
NO MATTER what they told you in the guidance office, the ability to write clear English is the most valuable skill you can take to a job interview. It is an uncommon skill, and commercial enterprise needs it badly and rewards it well.
Few can ever learn to write well--indeed, in the next few months you'll learn how unusual it is for even deans and vice-presidents to write correctly. Should you be one of the few who can learn to write, you should protect yourself at Glassboro by following most of the rules below. They won't teach you how to write, but they will make it harder for us to pretend that it's not for us to do.
Be sure that every course you take requires written assignments and that grades will penalize bad writing.
If you'd rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than do any of these things, don't be discouraged. You may easily find a splendid career in education.
Mark Chamberlain Writes Again!
(From a letter to John Schaub, 3/29/77)
Even in the most quantitative subjects there is some error or at least a lack of reproducibility in determination of scores on any one examination; in subject areas in which more subjective determinations are made, this lack of reproducibility is exacerbated.
Typographical Note: Just look at those hyphens. There are kinds of English prose which simply can't be justified.
NEITHER can his mind be thought, to be in tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.
Olny England is asking for volunteers to help in caring for artistic children. And God knows, they need all the help they can get.
If the trumpet give an uncertain sound,
who shall prepare himself for battle?
THE experienced concert-goer knows how important the first note is. How much can we hope for after a ragged attack or a failure of pitch at the start?
Who, therefore, can give any weight to the April edition of LASER--Seven Authors in Search of General Education, no less--when the first sentence of the first essay blats out a failure of agreement? "A rash . . . herald the fact." No one has time for such stuff, so we skipped to the next essay, where we found:
Among the forms which mark the side of John Keats' "Grecian Urn," is the vignette of those coming to the sacrifice out of some little town.
What a muzzy jumble. The forms "mark" the side? An urn has a side? Perhaps a poem has a side, since the forms are said to mark the side not of an urn but of a poem, John Keats' "Grecian Urn." (That the title is given incorrectly is no great crime, but it does make us wonder.) We read no more of this.*
The next essay begins: "Let me wax idealistic for a moment on the subject of General Education in the Fine and Performing Arts." We'll let a writer wax anything he likes, but we wax almost wroth when he pads out his piece asking the permission which he has already assumed to do so. Nor will we suspend judgment because he scuffs his toe in the dust and says, "Aw golly, fellas, I'm just waxing idealistic." Perhaps it's writing as one of the performing arts.
The next piece is unaccountably ascribed to two authors--perhaps by the one as told to the other?--and begins with a firm grasp on the obvious:
There are certain institutions of higher learning . . . in which students may be awarded a baccalaureate degree without being exposed to the most important contributors to Western culture and their achievements.
There's a spooky notion--being exposed to the contributors, and the vulgarism exposed to, with its whiff of gamma rays, is unhappy in this context, but the most arresting thing about the sentence is that what it says is as thoughtful and interesting as "Close cover before striking." If we could bear to read on we would expect to agree with this essay, but so what? We've been agreeing with it for as long as we've been closing covers before striking. Maybe the authors are young.
The subject of a sentence should usually be the name of something concrete. Here's a pretty good sentence: Students worrying about getting jobs have been flocking to the business schools. It's a statement that tells us what some people are doing, and that's what the next author ought to do. Instead he tells us what preoccupation has been up to:
The preoccupation with employment has led to an influx of students into the business schools.
We're not going to read any essays about preoccupation. The author himself isn't sure what to do with it, since he obviously means not "preoccupation with employment," not unknown even to tenured professors, but preoccupation with finding employment, which is all too little known to the same.
And another thing: It needs the tinnest of ears to tolerate influx in this context. Gross.
In the next essay, the work of one of our musicians, we can at least hope for gracious sounds and rhythms, and we read it aloud to savor the flow of its phrases. Do the same.
As a representative of a department which is constantly under attack for having curricula which are insufficiently "liberal" in construction, I am impressed by how little light is shed upon this question by the perpetual dialogue between faculty and administration.
He ought to be made to sing it. He's used enough nouns for a paragraph, an awkward pairing of which clauses, four prepositional phrases in a row, a hackneyed light is shed, a needless in construction, and the silly hyperbole of perpetual. And the next sentence begins with "In the context of the Glassboro situation," a phrase which must remind any composition teacher of that old favorite of struggling freshmen everywhere: In the modern world of today. . .
So there they are, seven authors in search of a general education, as well they might be. The search is premature, however, for is it not written: Seek ye first the Kingdom of Grammar, and a general education shall be added unto you?
Friends of Grammar
Drink a Toast
THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN is glad to have been accorded the disapproval of fools and the applause of the wise. We are honored especially by the approval of Prof. J. Mitchell Morse, Professor of English at Temple University, author of valuable books and articles on literature and language, and a teacher.
On July 8, 1977, Professor Morse was given the B. A. Bergman Award of the Free Library of Philadelphia for "outstanding literary achievement." The citation described him as one who has defended
by brilliant precept and stubborn example . . . the highest standards of English prose, both within the classroom and without, often in the teeth of indifference or hostility.
In this passage we find no errors.
Here at The Underground Grammarian we know a thing or two about those teeth of hostility--and the spongy gums of indifference--and we rejoice to salute J. Mitchell Morse, a brave Grammarian.
A MEMBER of the Grammatical Underground reports that this year's Middle States evaluation of GSC will include an assessment of grammatical competence in both faculty and administration. We will, of course, give the evaluators a complete file of back issues as well as our collection of original documents and unpublished commentary.
We urge our readers to call 445-5247 and request a copy of PERSONNEL NOTES, volume one, number one. It's a shame to have to castigate such earnest effort, but PN is typical of the sleazy appearance and pitiful writing of all those mimeographed sheets that sadden the heart at Glassboro. Why must so many of our publications sound like seventh grade newsletters as advised by assistant guidance counsellors? PN, for instance, has a department called "DIDJA KNOW..." We don't know who writes their stuff, but we're going to visit local churches listening for somebody who prays: Give us our bread on a daily basis.
Fran Masat served as editor of that sorry issue of LASER and must have been delighted to find that editors don't have to do anything at all. Why, anybody can be an editor! And why not? After all, this is Glassboro, where anybody can be a dean and anybody can be a vice-president. Logically and accordingly, Masat has decided to flee the classroom and become an assistant to Lawson Brown, whose grammar we explored last April. And a fine pair they'll make. Brown can send out memos about the "action of continue" and Masat can edit all his stuff.
Examples, comments, and queries may be sent to
* Advice to Frank Goodfellow from Dr. Johnson: "Read over your compositions, and whenever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." back