The Schools We Need
When public education fails, democracy fails with it
It’s a cold December evening in Lexington, Kentucky, and I’m sitting by the fire with a teetering stack of final essays from ENG 104: Freshman Comp. I know what I’m in for. All semester I’ve been hectoring my fifty-odd students to insert commas after introduc-
tory phrases, to improve paragraph development, and to remem-
ber that the phrase for granted (as in “take for granted”) means
“to accept,” whereas for granite, the phrase they often use instead,
could only suggest homage to that igneous rock, something akin
to W. H. Auden’s poem “In Praise of Limestone.”
It’s been a tough three months. I had been away from full-
time teaching for a few years, and away from eighteen-year-olds
for longer. From 1995 to 2005, I taught four, sometimes five,
sections of Freshman Comp each semester. I read roughly 8,000
essays during that decade — 200,000 pages, 50,000,000 words.
After all that, I took a little time o= to do some writing of my
own. But when my book was finished, the department chair ordered me back to the front line.
And Freshman Comp is the front line. All incoming college students take it, and their numbers are on the rise. Consequently, we are legion as well, we writing teachers, we circlers
of the comma splice, we well-intentioned, underpaid masses.
Despite what you may have heard, we are not covert operatives,
Maoist holdovers who have infiltrated the ranks of higher education. While I do have major concerns about the predatory nature
of corporate capitalism, as I imagine many of us do by now, my
motives, like those of my colleagues, are mostly pure. Our goals
can be simply stated if not easily achieved. Namely, we want to
teach your children to think for themselves and to communicate
those thoughts through e=ective use of language.