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A Reminder of Why I Do This: “Great Writing Has Nothing to Do With Grammar”

MP900387774Sometimes I’m privileged to come across student writing that re-centralizes me to why I got into this gig.

It has happened for me a few times, but once recently. I’ve been slogging through grading papers, making the same marks about the same issues—“lacks central idea”, “go further with this”, “re-read the prompt”. And, admittedly, I start to get discouraged and frustrated. But then I come across something so moving I want to read it again and again.

In my literacies class, we’ve been focusing on literacy in terms of language and dialects, an area that means a great deal to me and my research. While I was reading some literacy self-analysis papers focusing on how the students’ own literacies were developed, I came across Bridge’s paper that tells the story of the influence of Meg, Bridge’s partner and an education student working with urban high school English students. Meg once asked Bridge to read her work. As an Honors English student, Bridge dutifully proofread the paper and pointed out the mechanical errors. Meg confidently countered this feedback with “great writing has nothing to do with grammar”. Bridge wrote:

[Meg] reminded me of how highly I thought of her students, and pointed out the fact that their grammar isn’t on cue all the time, and to general society, neither is the Ebonics they use when they speak, though the words they write are so powerful and real…I realized how much my writing had suffered because of my obsession with my ps and qs. I looked at Meg’s writing and looked at mine…Meg wrote like she spoke.

Bridge realized that focusing more and more on the “correctness” of writing resulted in a loss of voice.

Sometimes I forget why I’m doing what I’m doing, but it’s because of Meg and Bridge and Meg’s students. Their awareness of the importance of voice reminds me why I’m reading, writing, researching, and teaching, and I’m grateful for that and them.

I’m an advocate for home languages and dialects in writing, especially for basic writers as they struggle with Standard English and losing their own voice. But sometimes, as a professional writer who understands the necessity for correct grammar in certain contexts,  I too get lost in the “ps and qs” and forget to just listen to their words instead of focusing so intently on “fixing” them.

Bridge wrote in the closing:

Meg isn’t the teacher she is today because of how [she is or isn’t an honors student]; her success is due to her ability to connect with her students, by speaking to them on a human level, and giving them the respect and support they’ve always deserved but haven’t received…She’s an educator because she wants to bring a voice to those whose voices have been silenced by the roar of stereotypes…

As instructors, we should feel fortunate when our student inspire us. Bridge has inspired me. I want to read those words over and over—in fact, I already have.

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