May 31, - The New York Times http: How is this possible? The answer is simple and even obvious: Students can't write clean English sentences because they are not being taught what sentences are.
Op-Ed Contributors Most composition courses that American students take today emphasize content rather than form, on the theory that if you chew over big ideas long enough, the ability to write about them will mysteriously follow.
The theory is wrong. Content is a lure and a delusion, and it should be banished from the classroom. Form is the way. On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students.
The language you create cannot be English or a slightly coded version of English, but it must be capable of indicating the distinctions - between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like - that English enables us to make.
You can imagine the reaction of students who think that "syntax" is something cigarette smokers pay, guess that "lexicon" is the name of a rebel tribe inhabiting a galaxy far away, and haven't the slightest idea of what words like "tense," "manner" and "mood" mean.
They think I'm crazy. Yet 14 weeks later - and this happens every time - each group has produced a language of incredible sophistication and precision. How is this near miracle accomplished?
The short answer is that over the semester the students come to understand a single proposition: A sentence is Devoid of content structure of logical relationships.
In its bare form, this proposition is hardly edifying, which is why I immediately supplement it with a simple exercise. In no time at all I am presented with 20 sentences, all perfectly coherent and all quite different.
Then comes the hard part. What did it take to turn a random list of words into a sentence? And working with the sentences they have created the students quickly realize two things: The next step and this one takes weeks is to explore the devices by which English indicates and distinguishes between the various components of these interactions.
If in every sentence someone is doing something to someone or something else, how does English allow you to tell who is the doer and whom or what is the doee; and how do you know whether there is one doer or many; and what tells you that the doer is doing what he or she does in this way and at this time rather than another?
Notice that these are not questions about how a particular sentence works, but questions about how any sentence works, and the answers will point to something very general and abstract.
They will point, in fact, to the forms that, while they are themselves without content, are necessary to the conveying of any content whatsoever, at least in English.
Once the students tumble to this point, they are more than halfway to understanding the semester-long task: In English, for example, most plurals are formed by adding an "s" to nouns. Is that the only way to indicate the difference between singular and plural?
But the language you create, I tell them, must have some regular and abstract way of conveying that distinction; and so it is with all the other distinctions - between time, manner, spatial relationships, relationships of hierarchy and subordination, relationships of equivalence and difference - languages permit you to signal.
In the languages my students devise, the requisite distinctions are signaled by any number of formal devices - word order, word endings, prefixes, suffixes, numbers, brackets, fonts, colors, you name it. Exactly how they do it is not the point; the point is that they know what it is they are trying to do; the moment they know that, they have succeeded, even if much of the detailed work remains to be done.
AT this stage last semester, the representative of one group asked me, "Is it all right if we use the same root form for adjectives and adverbs, but distinguish between them by their order in the sentence?
If they could formulate a question like that one, they had already learned the lesson I was trying to teach them. In the course of learning that lesson, the students will naturally and effortlessly conform to the restriction I announce on the first day: By that I mean we are not interested in ideas - yours, mine or anyone else's.
We don't have an anthology of readings. We don't discuss current events. We don't exchange views on hot-button issues. We don't tell each other what we think about anything - except about how prepositions or participles or relative pronouns function.
At that moment, the task of understanding and mastering linguistic forms will have been replaced by the dubious pleasure of reproducing the well-worn and terminally dull arguments one hears or sees on every radio and TV talk show.
Students who take so-called courses in writing where such topics are the staples of discussion may believe, as their instructors surely do, that they are learning how to marshal arguments in ways that will improve their compositional skills. In fact, they will be learning nothing they couldn't have learned better by sitting around in a dorm room or a coffee shop.
They will certainly not be learning anything about how language works; and without a knowledge of how language works they will be unable either to spot the formal breakdown of someone else's language or to prevent the formal breakdown of their own.
In my classes, the temptation of content is felt only fleetingly; for as soon as students bend to the task of understanding the structure of language - a task with a content deeper than any they have been asked to forgo - they become completely absorbed in it and spontaneously enact the discipline I have imposed.
And when there is the occasional and inevitable lapse, and some student voices his or her "opinion" about something, I don't have to do anything; for immediately some other student will turn and say, "No, that's content.
Stanley Fish is dean emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago.May 31, · They will point, in fact, to the forms that, while they are themselves without content, are necessary to the conveying of any content whatsoever, at least in English.
This post is almost entirely devoid of content except to point out a particularly funny exchange in the comments of a recent post.
It’s a constant struggle between bloggers and prefrosh over whether the “FIRST!” approach to commenting is acceptable behavior or not.
The Kingdom of Spain considers that the legal basis conferred by Article TFEU is inappropriate for the adoption of the contested regulation in that it considers that the regulation is legislation devoid of content, the ultimate purpose of which is that the powers conferred on the Union by the Treaty may be exercised by an international body, and that the reference to national legislation is not such as to .
Devoid of parents, devoid of relations, devoid of flocks and herds, devoid of gold and silver and of precious stones. View in context The Gnat, having sounded his horn, fastened himself upon the Lion and stung him on the nostrils and the parts of the face devoid of hair.
May 31, · Once the notion of relationship is on the table, the next question almost asks itself: what exactly are the relationships? And working with the sentences they have created the students quickly.
Devoid definition is - being without a usual, typical, or expected attribute or accompaniment —used with of. How to use devoid in a sentence. being without a usual, typical, or expected attribute or accompaniment —used with of.