Saturday, December 28, 2013

WORDS ON THE LINE: Nine Years Later

This post, the 553rd of this blog, ends the eighth year for WORDS ON THE LINE. Since the first post on January 4, 2005, I have focused on ways to help readers become better writers, through book briefsreferences, and websiteswhich cover useful writers' resources; and points on writing theory, style, grammaremail, and much more.

If you ever have a question, you can reach me at Here's to a productive 2014 as a writer!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Writing from Your Heart

Here's a quick anecdote for anyone considering writing as a 2014 resolution.

A gentleman (let's call him Sergei) in one of my recent classes used a proposal-writing assignment as an opportunity to write an open letter to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) arguing for improved structural engineering education in the United States. Sergei was an engineer in Russia, where he says structural foundations received greater emphasis on the undergraduate level. Now an American citizen living in New York for the past decade, he saw vast differences in the engineering education he received in Moscow from the one his son was receiving in New York. The idea of his proposal was for the ASCE to become at the least a change agent for the way the USA approaches engineering science. 

While his choice of audience and the sweep of his proposed changes were ambitious to say the least, I encouraged him to complete the assignment and send it to the ASCE for two rhetorical reasons, one of them practical and the other theoretical. The practical one is self-evident: he needed practice writing in English. The theoretical reason is no less important: what moves you to write will improve your writing.

As you resolve to improve your writing in the coming year, hold fast to those issues that inspire you, regardless of what they are. They may concern child care, democracy in Turkey, sex trafficking in the Middle East, gun control in the US, the rising popularity of chess in Asia, improved workplace safety—it doesn't matter as long as you are inspired to write. Just do the research, write about what you know, and I promise, you will see the results.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thanks to My Teachers, Part 8; J. J. Chambliss

At the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, I studied three disciplines within educational theory: philosophy, history, and sociology. Of the professors I met there, one stands out for his high quality scholarship, his deep commitment to education, and his genuine concern for students: J. J. Chambliss.

His book Educational Theory as a Theory of Conduct: From Aristotle to Dewey (State University of New York Press, 1987), is a concise collection of 12 essays that serves as an excellent starting point for students interested in the history of Western education. His ability to provide the historical underpinnings of contemporary educational topics never ceased to amaze me. 

Chambliss, now Professor Emeritus, had a reservoir of knowledge that seemed boundless, and his classroom lectures on Comenius, Condillac, and Comte remain models of content mastery.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Thanks to My Teachers, Part 7: James M. Giarelli

When I was in a doctoral program in educational theory at Rutgers University in the 1990s, obtaining a degree was my third in a long list of priorities for attending graduate school.

My first reason for enrolling in the Graduate School of Education was probably the opposite of what most students enrolled there would say. I wanted a stronger theoretical foundation. I felt that I was intuitively a good teacher, but I was weak in pointing to the theoretical foundations that supported my approach. I achieved that goal by reading twice as much as the requirements on the educational philosophies Plato, Aristotle, AugustineAquinasErasmus, Vico, Dewey, Freireand many others whose concepts preceded the trendy ideas of today by centuries. 

My second reason was publication. I intended to make publishable essays of my class assignments. This decision made me do more than triple the work that professors expected of their students. For instance, if an assignment called for a 500-word summary of  Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory (95 CE), I would also contrast it with Comenius's The Great Didactic (1638 CE), leading to a 5,000-word essay, because the more exhaustive research would appeal to academic journals interested in publishing the piece. Needless to say, such a practice would annoy most professors, who just wanted to do the minimum in developing their students' perspectives and wisdom. Not James M. Giarelli, who patiently gave feedback and guided me through to my dissertation, which was as much as three times longer than my peers' work. The result was publishing more than a dozen articles in various professional and scholarly journals.

That third reason, actually getting the doctorate, has proved useful in my career. But if I had not achieved the first two aims, the third would have never happened. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Thanks to My Teachers, Part 6: Sondra Perl

Sondra Perl was one of my teachers when I was studying the writing process in a graduate program at Lehman College in The Bronx, New York. Her contributions to writing theory earned her a Guggenheim fellowship, and more importantly, she was a great encouragement and positive force in her students' lives.

Perl's composing guidelines make a lot of sense, so I encourage you to read them if you struggle when writing. These tips can make the difference between abandoning and completing a writing project. Thank you, Professor Perl.