Saturday, May 22, 2004

The Lobotomized Weasel School of Writing

CRISPIN SARTWELL, LA TIMES - The other day, our 16-year-old son, struggling with his homework, asked his mother this question: "Do you know how many paragraphs an American history essay is supposed to have?" The answer, of course, is one. Or seven. Or 700. Whatever.

But that is not what he has been taught; he's been told there's a correct number. Once I was working with him on an essay and he told me we needed exactly three arguments. No more, no fewer, although he did not know yet what they might be.

Today's educational establishment is making actual illiteracy look good, like an act of humanity and rebellion. Writing, which ought to nurture and give shape to thought, is instead being used to pound it into a powder and then reconstitute it into gruel.

The thoroughly modern grade-A public-school prose style is not creative or interesting enough even to be wrong. The people who create and enforce the templates are, not to put too fine a point on it, people without understanding or imagination, lobotomized weasels for whom any effort of thought exceeds their strength. I recently read one of the many boilerplate descriptions of how students should write their essays. "The penultimate sentence," it said, "should restate your basic thesis of the essay." Well, who says? And why?

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