Rules are what makes art beautiful.

“There’s a tendency to think that art is finally the place where there are no rules, where you have complete freedom. I’m going to sit down at the keyboard and it’s just going to flow out of me onto the paper and it’s going to be pure art.–No! What you are describing is finger painting. Rules are what makes art beautiful.”

-Aaron Sorkin

The Fragility of the Modern College Student

In her article “The Educational Power of Discomfort,” Irina Popescu talks about the challenges presented by student “fragility”:

“I mean the fragility I witness when a student misses an assignment because he simply forgot to check the syllabus, or when a student speaking aloud in class for the first time starts shaking, or when a student who is handed back an incomplete paper with a C on it immediately tears up. I am talking about the fragility that follows their separation from the structured patterns of high school and middle school, as they are thrown into a world where the future is unknown. There are no more good-job-dinosaur-with-a-thumb-up stickers for simply getting a task done in college. That lack of consistent positive reinforcement often discourages and upsets them, especially in a writing class where so much depends on the transcription of our own personal visions and interpretations.”

Her answer to this problem  is that “[w]e must make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning.” She writes, “To help my students with this, one of the first things I do every semester is make them understand that a bad grade is just that, a bad grade, and that it should push them to do better the next time. Often the bad grade stems from a lack of motivation, energy, and time. We must make it clear to our students that mistakes and failure are a part of learning.”

This may be easier said than done in a climate of grade-inflation and student entitlement, but for those of us teaching–especially in the writing classroom–Popescu’s article reminds us that if we want to be successful, we have to try to make our students understand that growth is more important than grades.

“Making an Outline” [Video]

This video does a pretty good job explaining how to outline for an essay. Keep in mind that you want to keep your ideas as short as possible so they are easier to see at a glance and that you don’t need to use roman numerals if you don’t want to. Dots and dashes or arrows and stars work just as well. The important thing is making each level distinct. Also, it is a good idea to write your complete thesis statement at the top of your outline rather than just the topic.

Student Discovers Scepter of Truth

ScepterOfTruth ScepterOfTruth2

I noticed one of my students carrying around this novel, which featured a familiar cover.

The book was one of half a dozen novels that my now-defunct novels class wrote in 2007. We printed copies for the author’s friends and families, and we bought a copy for the school library, where Savanna found Scepter of Truth by Elizabeth DeWitt.  Unless they’ve been disappeared–I’m looking at you Mrs. Burkett!–there should also be copies of novels by Amanda Workman, Bobbie Clifton, Felisha Mitchell, Karen Nelson, and Casey Shortt.


Two Spaces After a Period: Why The Rule You Learned Is Wrong

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left.

Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. ([APA] allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.)

Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do….

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read.

Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

The Thrill of the Non-Electronic Source

“I do not employ researchers, nor did I conduct any primary research using the Internet.  I need physical contact with my sources, and there’s only one way to get it.  To me every trip to a library or archive is like a small detective story.  There are always little moments on such trips when the past flares to life, like a match in the darkness.  On one visit to the Chicago Historical Society, I found the actual notes that Prendergast sent to Alfred Trude.  I saw how deeply the pencil dug into the paper.”

-Erik Larson, Devil in the White City, Notes and Sources, pp 395-96.

14 Contronyms: Words That Are Their Own Opposites


Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.”

Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression’ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’?

We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of “contronyms” — words that are their own antonyms.


The English One Theater Proudly Presents…

To close our unit on The Great Gatsby, students from English I created silent films with themes that revolve around the American Dream. You can check them out below. Students were in charge of overseeing the entire film-making process, from writing, directing, casting, filming, acting, and editing. Although the films have not yet been rated, parental guidance is suggested.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold