Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ah Reality

So in my comp class this morning, where I was teaching grammar and format, how important it was to run the spell-check and be certain you have checked for run-on sentences and haven't misused semi-colons, all of that, before you submitted a paper --

"Why?" I asked.

I always ask this. I want them to think about why surface errors matter. "Certainly it matters if you have an excellent thesis and excellent arguments and you support those arguments with lots of solid sources. But suppose you do all that, and then your paper is riddled with lousy spelling and you've got two misconstructed sentences in the first paragraph and you can't manage to use semi-colons correctly. What happens to your reader? What's he do, twenty words into your argument?"

"He decides you're an idiot and quits reading," says my football player from the back row.

"Absolutely," I agree. "It's like if you show up for the job interview in cut off jeans and a nose ring and your hair stick up all over your head -- well, does it matter how many degrees you have or how qualified you are?"

My very intelligent but home-schooled student in the front row raised his hand. "How you explain, then," he asked, "how well John McCain is doing? Considering he's not that articulate, and he doesn't speak nearly as well as Obama? Why is he doing so well in this election?"

I stared at him, bemused. Then I glanced around the classroom. Then I looked back at him. "Well," I said, gently, "he's not, is he? The latest polls have him down what, fourteen points? He's at 38%? That's not so good."

He gave me the bemused look I had just given him. That couldn't be right, could it?

"Anyway," I said, "that's not really the scope of this class..."

And I moved them on.

But apparently, in the world these folk live in, McCain is doing well -- even winning the election.

It's that Republican again.


Bardiac said...

He's an old white guy who shows up in a suit, surrounded by other white guys in suits. He's got the basic grammar, spelling, and formatting right, and there's even some substance to his argument. It's a weak argument, but it's still there.

And people who like "easy to read" might just like him.

After all, he's not all complicated and challenging like "that one" is.

Me, I like complicated answers to complex questions way better than over-simplified pablum.

delagar said...

That was the other problem I had with this kid's question: McCain had problems, yes, but grammar issues really aren't among them.

I think maybe it's the eloquence meme -- they're pushing it hard on the Right these days: how Obama has this unfair advantage because he's so articulate.

The Other Liberal Professor said...

Lordy, save us from articulate politicians!

Lisa KS said...

A brief but insightful tale...