Writers: Hell’s Angel in a China Shop

In the novel I’m reading, somebody notes that those in a college English department who write about writing are well paid and respected within the academic world while anyone in the department who actually writes is branded as dangerous and is considered definitely outside the safe and stifling confines of the brick walls that house literature. Since I’ve been there and done that, I’ll say we are viewed with the same horror as Hell’s angels in a China shop.

My favorite college writing instructor was in a similar position. When we (students of his) got together with him outside of class at a campus watering hole, we talked about this. Some people saw the English department paradox as similar to having a battle-scarred general on the staff of a military school who is treated with less respect than those who learned battlefield tactics by reading books.

The best we could determine is that wiring requires heavy use of the imagination and that teaching literature (pronounced li-tri-chure by the snobs) requires logic. And never the twain shall meet. Those who pride themselves on logic don’t like those who rely on spontaneity and imagination. Logic is favored in our science and technology world over intuition and magic, so naturally, writers don’t fit into the consensus reality of the university, much less the English department.

So, as I read this novel, I recognize a lot of things from my life as a student en route to becoming a writer and suffice it to say I’m getting angry again about the way prospective writers were/are treated by their English departments. And yet, all these years later, I wonder what the logic-focussed non-writers in the department thought we were going to do after college. Write or teach, I guess–and teaching was more stable, salary-wise, and respect-wise.

I hope there will come a day when magic and imagination and intuition are respected in writers and others who can sense how the world works without a calculator.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Professors, you’re killing your students with books

I taught in a small college and among my duties was serving as the advisor to a group of students. I wanted to say, “Get out while you’re still alive.”

Why?

Class, you have to read all this shit by the end of the week. Yeah, right.

Because each professor assigned books, in addition to the course textbook, for each student to read during the quarter or semester. First, nobody could read that many books. Second, each professor acted as though s/he was the only professor in the college assigning books to be read during the term.

There was no communication between departments. This meant that each professor assigned books without thinking about the number of books his or her students’ other professors were assigning. Between the time I went to college and the time I taught in college, this problem had gotten worse. Nobody can read 3-4 novels a week when they have other classes to attend.

Putting up with the nonsense of (a) studying the assigned chapters in the textbooks for 3-4 courses per semester and (b) fitting in a hundred pages worth of additional reading from a stack of fiction and nonfiction for each course killed my respect for the educational system. I felt the same way when I was caught up in it as a teacher. I taught journalism. All we had was the textbook. But my colleagues were assigning stacks of books to be read each week and nothing I said about it mattered.

They wanted me to get with the program and, for example, force my students to read a thick book containing all of Hemingway’s war reporting one week and all of some other journalist’s dispatches another week. I wouldn’t do it.

So, we argued about it, the other departmental teachers and I, and the students were lost in the shuffle. No wonder everyone survived on Cliff’s Notes and Monarch Notes and whatever the modern versions of those are today. Frankly, I think that–based on the credit hours of a course–there should be a maximum number of pages/books that can be assigned (including the textbook). We need to increase the credit hours awarded by the course if we add more reading material.

I’m a writer and I disliked high school and college English departments. That’s kind of sad, I think. Those departments did their best to kill my love of reading and writing and, I have a feeling, they’re still doing it today. When will they ever learn?

Malcolm