The first quarter has ended, and all the marks are parked. “Chase the knowledge, not the grade,” I implore the students. “The grades you won’t remember in twenty years, but the knowledge you get to keep.” But they have been schooled too long to break rank now. It is senior year, and numbers dominate the landscape. SAT, ACT and GPA top the list. “What are you?” is the question of the hour, even as I seek to steer them to the better inquiry. “Who are you?” I ask. “Who do you wish to become?”
They are working through their anxieties about the future and doing almost everything I ask to fortify themselves. We have one more short story to read before we turn to our first novel. Literature has already escorted us to New York, Chile, India, and now Nigeria. In each, we chart conflict, characterization, and plot; we debate theme and message. The conversations have been lively and have forced us to examine difficult issues like trust, sex, fatherlessness, death, and familial burdens. I am enjoying the volleying of ideas.
For the last week or so, I shifted focus to grammar. More specifically, I have highlighted the role of function in expression. “When you write,” I tell them, “you are a filmmaker making choices: who to follow? what to illuminate? what to ignore? Sentences, the backbone of our communication, are nothing more than frames featuring a subject and a verb, a doer and a deed. As in life, both are required to propel our ideas into action.”
Over the course of the year, we will be reviewing the ten basic sentence types in the English language, not as a primer on grammar lessons from prior years, but rather as a means to recognize form, to make choices, to “transform the words into your servants.”
Verbs, whether the “be” form or linking, intransitive or transitive, are the engines of the English language, with or without their complements. They become the combustion that makes the language hum and move. We will labor to upgrade our verbs and reduce our dependency on adverbs or prepositions to gather momentum. Through writing both formal essays and informal musings, we will shape the language around doers and deeds, even as we spice our written conversations with details, imagery, and figurative language.
“Rhythm,” I tell them. “Your writing must have a rhythm. Language is a dance.”
“Remember, you are doers. I want you to uncover your voice—the one only you have—and then employ it to help shape your world, your perception, your possibilities, your deeds. May graduation will arrive before we expect it; it always does. We better prepare.”
“Alright, Mr. Roberts,” one remarks. “We got this. Now teach.”
–Mark E.P. Roberts (teachermandc)