some last thoughts from Uptaught

I just finished reading Uptaught. A few excerpts and thoughts:


The student looks at the test and says, “Dammit! c is right and b is right, but it says up aove there’s only one right answer!”

It may be that what he has in mind is the most sublte comment of anybody in the class. Yet can’t put it down. He would like to tell why he thinks both c and b touch the question positively. In fact, neither do the whole job for him. He wants to make qualifications, to express subtle shades of meaning. That is what he is in school to learn to do. The test will not let him. (98)


This professional writer did not yet see that the whole educational system tells the student to write Engfish and that the writing of it fulfils not the explicit, large demands of most teachers, which are for truth and originality and communication; but the implicit demands, which are for perfect mechanics, proper form, and sterilized language. (116)

On the structure of schools, by one of his students who dropped out of school:

If a professor really wants to reach his students, give them the feel of Chaucer or Marx, have them grasp concepts that have changed his life, he’s going to have to question all the facets of the university and consider the fact that a kid can maybe learn more in a concentrated weekend seminar or a casual conversation free from distractions like wretched dorm life and the inane pressures of The Grade, and uncomfortable poorly designed classrooms, and oops! the hour is up again, try not to forget it all by Monday—else, professor, you’re just playing Parcheesi, the students are the pieces and you try to move them from here to there (if indeed you’re plyaing the game seriously) on the arbitrary board-of-educaiton provided by our society. I’m out of that game. (153)

The subject of classrooms:

…my students have taught me that the subject of all those classes is human behavior. (177)

On censoring language:

…I remembered an article in College English that had been haunting me since March 1967. I had written an appreciative note to its author, Laurence W. Hyman of Brooklyn College… He asked, “Why must intelligent and sensitive young men feel impelled to use such ugly words and describe such ugly feelings?” He said “…the immediate and prime function of literature is to make us see and feel the object or human situation in a way we have never done before.” The novelist, he said, employs unusual sentence structure and diction “to break through the reader’s habitual response.” If we sensor our students’ work, said Mr. Hyman, “we are striking at the very function of literature itself.” (184)

Macrorie, Ken. Uptaught. New York: Hayden, 1970.

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