Hubby handed in his last essay of the semester last night. It was a bugger of an essay and Hubby was panicked about it. The professor had asked for too much analysis within too short a time and too few pages. Every time Hubby tried to think about what to write, his thoughts froze. When he has a troublesome paper like this, he needs to talk through it with me in order to move through the writer’s block. We went at it for a couple of days and anyone who tries to tell you that thinking isn’t work should have borrowed our brains after this exercise. They hurt from exhaustion.
After writing a portion of the paper, Hubby sent it to his professor, who likes to critique student essays ahead of time. As if this isn’t the warning sign of a control freak, the few comments the prof sent back should cement the label. Basically, the prof told Hubby that he shouldn’t EVER use the word “say,” or its derivatives, “said,” “saying,” “says.” He indicated that Hubby was too intelligent for that. While I agree that Hubby is incredibly intelligent, what the hell is wrong with using a perfectly serviceable word like “say”? And why does using “say” make someone unintelligent? Does this prof want to try and tell Stephen King that he can’t use a particular word?
This points to a larger problem caused by college professors. Many of them demand that students write in a way that promotes a purposeful complexity, so much so that college graduates forget how to write to be understood by the masses. Apparently professors don’t want students to communicate in plain English. Once a student becomes indoctrinated in the use of gobs of multisyllabic words, field-related jargon, and convoluted grammatical constructions, it becomes difficult to break the habit. I dare say that it can also cause students to lose their personal writing voices. Some of them may never find their voices again because they’ve been told that if they use words like “say,” they won’t be considered intelligent, or some such other veiled insult.
When Hubby received this comment, he said, “Why am I going to school? What’s the point? I’m a blue-collar guy and I use words like “say,” but apparently that’s not good enough.” Meanwhile, I was spitting and sputtering on his behalf. I told him that there is no way I could return to college now. If a prof said something like this to me, he’d get it back with both barrels. I’d probably turn in a Dick and Jane paper out of anger. It might look something like this:
See Dick. Look. Look. Look. Dick is a capitalist. Dick has lots of money. He is happy. See Jane. Look. Look. Look. Jane does not have any money. She is sad. Look again. Here is Karl Marx. He says that Dick is part of the bourgeoisie. (That’s a big word, boys and girls.) Karl says that Jane is part of the proletariat. (That’s another big word, boys and girls.) Karl thinks that Jane should rise up against Dick and make him share his money. Karl calls this communism.
Okay, college profs (those of you guilty of promulgating purposeful but unneeded complexity), if you don’t want a raging wife scolding you on her blog, how ’bout you get off your literary high horses and stop this brand of discouragement.
And students, don’t take to heart all the stuff your college profs say. They don’t know everything.
[Look. Look. Look. It’s a grain of salt.]
Hang onto your writing voice!