Tag Archives: grammar

Writing and rites of manhood at Hampden Sydney College

It’s pedagogically incorrect to say so, but I have to say the grammar and test intensive writing curriculum at Hampden Sydney College really works. I taught there for a year right out of grad school at Duke, was skeptical of the whole idea of a sophomore year grammar and writing test when I came, and have never tried to implement it anywhere else I’ve been. But I will say it worked. For Hampden Sydney College, it worked. Hampden Sydney College produces competent writers across the board, its share of truly skilled writers, and a campus culture that is deeply committed to writing, all through the musty and most unlikely aegis of that thing called grammar.

Success there is bred, I think, partly through the usual ways: small intense classes and several of them. Learning to write is labor intensive, so mostly as a nation we get the kinds of writers we pay for. But I also think the grammar and writing exam plays a crucial cultural role at the all male school. It is a rite of passage that every student anticipates from the moment of matriculation, that every first year prepares for throughout the year, and that every sophomore endures more or less at the same time. At the end of the sophomore year it marks the passageway to upperclass status. Who would have thought that grammar and rhetoric could become an initiation into manhood.

An excerpt from the recent Inside Higher Ed story on hsc and Old Dominiom. (Side note: I got to hear an address from Hampden Sydney’s President, Chris Howard, at the Rethinking Success conference at Wake Forest. Impressive.)

But at Hampden-Sydney, qualifying to take the test is the culmination of a yearlong (or more) process. The 1,100 men there must first pass two rhetoric classes (or three if they test poorly as incoming freshmen) before sitting for the test. The classes, which are capped at 14 students, stress grammar and essay composition. If a student fails the test, generally taken late in his sophomore year, he has two opportunities to pass it again as a junior and to seek help from writing instructors.

If a student still hasn’t passed by the start of his senior year – something faculty say rarely happens – he places into a writing-intensive course in which he is tutored and then asked to write three essays but isn’t held to a time limit. Lowell Frye and Elizabeth Deis, both professors in the rhetoric department since 1983, said they can’t remember a student not graduating solely because of the writing assessment.

But, they said, the test provides accountability and encourages a collegewide emphasis on writing. “It creates a climate in which writing is important for faculty and for students,” Deis said. “The students, and especially the alumni, are absolutely committed to the idea of this test.”

(via Instapaper)

Barack Obama Secretly Married to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Who knew?

This just in from the New York Times as of 6:07 p.m. on Saturday afternoon:

But out on the campaign trail, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, was warmer and cozier, sometimes adopting the Bill Clintonesque I-feel-your-pain message used to such great effect by his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in swing states.

Now I really hate to do this because everyone and their grandmother thinks that all an English professor does is check grammar. Still, I MUST point out that in this case “his wife” refers all the way back to the proper noun “Mr. Obama” since in fact “Bill Clintonesque” is an adjective modifying the noun “message.” And for you grammar hounds out there, a possessive pronoun cannot refer back to an adjective. No doubt the error was overlooked by an Ivy League undergraduate who is interning as a copy editing assistant and who never had to learn grammar since it is skipped in honors classes. Of course, writers mostly don’t bother with grammar anyway. Too far beneath them. Especially if they write for the New York Times.

However, one is intrigued by the possibility that this is NOT in error. Maybe Barack and Hillary did secretly tie the knot in Utah somewhere, or at least somewhere wherein the fact that you may already be married doesn’t matter very much. This gives a whole new angle on the tensions between Barack and Hillary on the campaign trail. What we all merely took for underhanded politics was really romantic and sexual tension gone awry. Hillary’s anger at Barack’s sexism was no doubt given an extra edge by the fact that he skipped doing the dishes and left the seat up the last time they were together. And what about this intriguing photo of the two love-birds together. Party unity, indeed! As for that evening of reconciliation at the home of Diane Feinstein where she said knowingly that she would “leave the two of them alone together”? No doubt with a wink and a nod. Inquiring minds want to know.

Political Enemies or Love-birds? You Decide
Combatants or Love-Birds? You Decide!