I’m re-blogging an old post (from 2012) here because reading the titles of your columnist profiles has me a bit disappointed in all that has been squandered. With love, K.
So, I’ve been grading a lot over this break. A lot, a lot. Too much even. But, there’s a silver lining. Sometimes when I’m thinking a lot about student writing, a good idea emerges. You’re all thinking, “So, tell us! We need to know!” Well, shh…if you’re quiet for a second, I will tell you. Why do you think I turned on this confounded, light-producing box and am typing all of these Latin characters in mutually agreed upon linguistic patterns? Sheesh.
I have to build a little context first though, so keep your shoes and socks on. For those in a hurry, you can skip the next section (though your life will be greatly impoverished as it’s really entertaining).
O.K. picture this. I’m lecturing my 9th period magnet 10th grade honors class on the value of titling their essays. They had just handed me a stack of 32 essays with scintillating titles such as, “Essay,” “Richard Wright, Final Essay,” and my personal favorite, “ ______”.
I begged, pleaded and reasoned: “If you have the opportunity to title something, (I nearly wept) why would you squander that opportunity?” I employed the rhetorical device known as analogy: “Its like bringing a child into the world and refusing to name it!” I ranted, raved and waxed philosophical: “The entire meaning of an essay can hinge upon the title.” In the end, I wagered it all on hyperbole: “If you don’t believe me, spend the twelve bucks and read Bendeguz Offertaler’s (note: Bendeguz is a young man in this class) forthcoming monograph, ‘Bendeguz’s Sack O’ Titles.’”
I did not need to look in the mirror to know that a scary, blue vein was standing out on my forehead, keeping time with its gelatinous pulse.
Fast-forward about two months. I’m lecturing you guys, (my AP Lang kids) on the value of pre-writing and having a well-thought out thesis at the beginning of a timed writing assignment. I was handing back a stack of timed essays, which I lovingly characterized as “farting around on the page for 30 minutes or so until they finally found out what they wanted to say, and then panicking for 10 minutes to say it, substantiate it, and tie up all the loose ends.”
I calmly explained: “The only way I can think of to avoid the aforementioned problem and to get you to write a better argument essay where you start with a profound thesis and then build your essay around that, is to get you a lot of practice formulating arguments.” Then I handed you yet another essay (I know, I know; you’re welcome).
Fast-forward to now. I’m sitting at the kitchen table lecturing my wife and mother-in-law on the absurdities of teaching my classes. I am grading a stack of timed, in-class essays, when I claim that “some of the handwriting would bring forensic graphologists the howling fantods.”
The idea hits me like a gob of avian excrement: …
At this point, I’ll drop the affectation and tell you directly (not that I want you to depend on this).
If you ever find yourself farting around on a page for 30 minutes until you finally hit your stride, cleverly use your title as subterfuge to make it seem as if you purposely held off on revealing your thesis until the end, that everything went according to plan from the beginning. If you can execute this well enough, since it is the first thing your reader’s eye will encounter, you may just pull off a grand legerdemain.