Dear English Teachers,
You are great! Thank you for what you do and have done.
Parts of my life might not exist without your contribution. I get excited about the texture that parentheses, commas, and dashes can add to writing. I love bookshelves as decoration. I read G.K. Chesterton, Neil Gaiman, and J.R.R. Tolkien to my kids (all under 3). I spent an entire summer reading the Iliad for fun after failing to read the Odyssey for class. You taught me that my grammatical errors are more than broken arbitrary rules. Instead, they muddle my words. They turn my writing into mumbling. Now, I know that you made corrections to help my voice be heard and understood (that doesn’t stop me from imagining you pick up your red pen and say, “Set phasers to passive voice,” right before you filled my paper with “p.v.”).
Thank you for respecting that my papers and ideas were new to me, even if you’ve read similar ones your entire career. Thank you for your paragraphs of wisdom and encouragement that followed the comma splice and fragment corrections. I love the written word because you showed me that it could be mastered.
At the same time, you taught me humility. I often learned the hard way that my best work only existed if it was ‘our work.’ Whether that required a proof-reading friend or came when I read your corrections and comments that “the paper was good but suffered from simple mistakes”.
Questions such as, “Where is all of this coming from?” “Why this post now?” might arise. It is coming from a sincere place. Those thoughts came to mind as I picked up The Lord of the Rings to read it again. As I read the “Foreword to the Second Edition” (thank you for encouraging me to read the whole book) I came across this line, “I think many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author” (xvii). After processing that line and agreeing with Tolkien, I immediately and unfairly thought, “I don’t remember being taught that difference.” Then, the humility lesson hit.
Without your influence, I wouldn’t have read that line this morning. I wouldn’t read forewords, understand allegory, or give a hoot what J.R.R. Tolkien had to say. I wouldn’t be distracted all morning thinking about what impact the confusion between applicability and allegory has on how we interact. Thoughts like: is that why Ray Bradbury walked out of lecture hall after students told him what his book ‘really’ meant (http://www.laweekly.com/news/ray-bradbury-fahrenheit-451-misinterpreted-2149125)? Has that confusion led to this false dichotomy between objective and subjective truth? Would it help if we understood that there is an objective truth to a book and a subjective way that the book speaks to me? Would that allow us to read people in context, listen to people in context and make us better at dialogue? I don’t know. However, I love that a single line in the foreword of a book that I have no business trying to read while brushing my teeth sends me down a rabbit hole.
Thank you, for teaching me to think.
A Perpetual Student