Great Teachers Still Exist!

 

@peterrobinson should interview this English gentleman on Uncommon Knowledge.

Background: My life was transformed by a great teacher at a state university in Sacramento. Dr. David Bell taught me, as a published writer with a B.A. in English, that I still couldn’t read or write effectively. I could not call myself a real writer until I got an A on a six-page paper in one of his four graduate seminars.

In the first, Austen and Bronte, I got a B on the paper. In the second, Richardson and Fielding, I got a B+. In the third, Classical Rhetoric with Aristotle’s text as the course text, I had a major revelation and got an A-.  In the final seminar, my last chance, called The Age of Jonson, I wrote on Burke’s Imagery in Reflections on the Revolution in France. It was the last paper due in the course, and I wrote it over a six-hour period the day it was due.

I got the A and finally could call myself a writer.

Not long after, he retired (in the 1990s), and I’ve despaired ever since that great teachers would rise in the coming decades given the state of our universities.

But I now know of one, and I have joined his Patreon world. He is worth every penny.

His name is Benjamin McEvoy, and he reminds me of Dr. Bell, his passion and inspiration, and mastery of articulate expression.

I will post links to some of his videos here and in the comments. Perhaps you will find one worth checking out. Like and subscribe and spread the word. Benjamin gives me hope.

And yes, Peter. I think he would be a fantastic interview.

.

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  1. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    • #1
  2. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    This might strike some as odd, but stick to the end for full context.

    • #2
  3. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    • #3
  4. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I was also inspired by a college English teacher, in a different way. For my first English essay, I only got a “C”! I was devastated, but after I got over my embarrassment, I decided to meet with him to get more feedback. It was hard to schedule this meeting, because he was quite distant with students. (It turns out he was relatively new and quite shy.) But I think he was thrilled that someone actually wanted feedback on his or her writing. (Notice the correct usage in that sentence!) I have no memory of the feedback he gave me, but I took it seriously, we got along very well, and I did much better in writing later essays. It turned out to be a great experience.

    • #5
  6. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I was also inspired by a college English teacher, in a different way. For my first English essay, I only got a “C”! I was devastated, but after I got over my embarrassment, I decided to meet with him to get more feedback. It was hard to schedule this meeting, because he was quite distant with students. (It turns out he was relatively new and quite shy.) But I think he was thrilled that someone actually wanted feedback on his or her writing. (Notice the correct usage in that sentence!) I have no memory of the feedback he gave me, but I took it seriously, we got along very well, and I did much better in writing later essays. It turned out to be a great experience.

    Yes, Dr. Bell gave me a C- on my first paper in a Brit Lit survey course, and that began my growing awareness at how previous teachers had given me A’s that I did not deserve. Dr. Bell demonstrated the value of an objective system of grading. I was fortunate to go through his classes with a few friends who also had amazing experiences with him.

    • #6
  7. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Mark Alexander:

     

    i will post links to some of his videos here and in the comments. Perhaps you will find one worth checking out. Like and subscribe and spread the word. Benjamin gives me hope.

    Thanks – I will check him out.

    • #7
  8. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I was also inspired by a college English teacher, in a different way. For my first English essay, I only got a “C”! I was devastated, but after I got over my embarrassment, I decided to meet with him to get more feedback. It was hard to schedule this meeting, because he was quite distant with students. (It turns out he was relatively new and quite shy.) But I think he was thrilled that someone actually wanted feedback on his or her writing. (Notice the correct usage in that sentence!) I have no memory of the feedback he gave me, but I took it seriously, we got along very well, and I did much better in writing later essays. It turned out to be a great experience.

    Yes, Dr. Bell gave me a C- on my first paper in a Brit Lit survey course, and that began my growing awareness at how previous teachers had given me A’s that I did not deserve. Dr. Bell demonstrated the value of an objective system of grading. I was fortunate to go through his classes with a few friends who also had amazing experiences with him.

    This all sounds so familiar.  Having gone through a pretty decent suburban public school, if I wrote it, I got an A.  Never had to do multiple drafts.  “A”s were easy to come by.  Then I had an excellent writing prof for freshman composition.  First essay I had the high grade in the class with a C.  Several drafts later, I started to see how I could improve.  Then about 10 years later, I went to law school, and found out just how bloated my writing still was.  I had a prof that taught me how to say a lot more with many fewer words.

    I’m still nowhere near you professional writers in skill and style, but I have learned the value of a good writing teacher and am the better for it.

    • #8
  9. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Justin Other Lawyer (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I was also inspired by a college English teacher, in a different way. For my first English essay, I only got a “C”! I was devastated, but after I got over my embarrassment, I decided to meet with him to get more feedback. It was hard to schedule this meeting, because he was quite distant with students. (It turns out he was relatively new and quite shy.) But I think he was thrilled that someone actually wanted feedback on his or her writing. (Notice the correct usage in that sentence!) I have no memory of the feedback he gave me, but I took it seriously, we got along very well, and I did much better in writing later essays. It turned out to be a great experience.

    Yes, Dr. Bell gave me a C- on my first paper in a Brit Lit survey course, and that began my growing awareness at how previous teachers had given me A’s that I did not deserve. Dr. Bell demonstrated the value of an objective system of grading. I was fortunate to go through his classes with a few friends who also had amazing experiences with him.

    This all sounds so familiar. Having gone through a pretty decent suburban public school, if I wrote it, I got an A. Never had to do multiple drafts. “A”s were easy to come by. Then I had an excellent writing prof for freshman composition. First essay I had the high grade in the class with a C. Several drafts later, I started to see how I could improve. Then about 10 years later, I went to law school, and found out just how bloated my writing still was. I had a prof that taught me how to say a lot more with many fewer words.

    I’m still nowhere near you professional writers in skill and style, but I have learned the value of a good writing teacher and am the better for it.

    I think I’ve gotten pretty good at 3 minute speech writing. Just write and write and write, fix grammar and repeated word use, and then read out loud, making changes til you get under three minutes. It cuts a lot of bulk out and as an exercise, it’s improved some of my mistakes. I end sentences on prepositions far less and fewer “thats” are used.

    • #9
  10. Chris Williamson Member
    Chris Williamson
    @ChrisWilliamson

    My mentor in writing was my Russian professor. I didn’t receive grades at New College in Florida, but I did receive lots of edits of essays that I submitted.  I worked so hard to see a the word “Good” scribbled on the page with a sentence or two in brackets.

    I remember the day Professor Schatz attached a note card to one of my papers: “In general, you’re writing is very good.” I keep that card close by.

    • #10
  11. Justin Other Lawyer Coolidge
    Justin Other Lawyer
    @DouglasMyers

    Chris Williamson (View Comment):

    My mentor in writing was my Russian professor. I didn’t receive grades at New College in Florida, but I did receive lots of edits of essays that I submitted. I worked so hard to see a the word “Good” scribbled on the page with a sentence or two in brackets.

    I remember the day Professor Schatz attached a note card to one of my papers: “In general, you’re writing is very good.” I keep that card close by.

    That reminds me of an anecdote I heard about former Chief Justice Warren Burger, someone who was pretty tough on his clerks.  When he edited draft opinions given to him by the clerks, his habit was to simply write question marks in places needing edits.

    One time a clerk received his draft back with only a large circle drawn on page one and nothing else.  He went to the justice and asked him what the circle meant.  Justice Warren said “that’s the dot under the world’s largest question mark”.  No idea if the story’s true, but I love it.

    • #11
  12. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Justin Other Lawyer (View Comment):

    Chris Williamson (View Comment):

    My mentor in writing was my Russian professor. I didn’t receive grades at New College in Florida, but I did receive lots of edits of essays that I submitted. I worked so hard to see a the word “Good” scribbled on the page with a sentence or two in brackets.

    I remember the day Professor Schatz attached a note card to one of my papers: “In general, you’re writing is very good.” I keep that card close by.

    That reminds me of an anecdote I heard about former Chief Justice Warren Burger, someone who was pretty tough on his clerks. When he edited draft opinions given to him by the clerks, his habit was to simply write question marks in places needing edits.

    One time a clerk received his draft back with only a large circle drawn on page one and nothing else. He went to the justice and asked him what the circle meant. Justice Warren said “that’s the dot under the world’s largest question mark”. No idea if the story’s true, but I love it.

    Dr. Bell also put question marks next to sentences without comment. I got what he meant every time.

    • #12
  13. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    As a Physics/Engineering student, I don’t have any real lessons in writing to remember, but my Physics lecturer was the head of the department (and had been my father’s PhD advisor years before *)  I remember that he would never answer a question by saying “You will get that next semester” – he would turn around and start deriving the answer based on what we knew at that point.  I learned that it was more important to know how to attack a problem than to reach to a mental ‘shelf’ and pull down an answer.

    I transferred to Engineering school and worked during the day and went at night.  Among other things, that meant that many of the professors were not full-time professors, but had full time day jobs and usually a very practical approach.

    I remember one professor telling us that most of our education taught us to use mathematics to “optimize” the solution.  He said that in the real world, we really needed to “satisfize” the solution and move on.  That stuck with me.

    *I never had the nerve to tell him that he had often been a featured performer in my father’s bed-time stories to my brother and I!

    • #13
  14. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Mark Alexander: Dr. David Bell taught me as a published writer with a B.A. in English that I still couldn’t read or write effectively.

    Then as the writer of this sentence Who is the “published writer with a B.A. in English?” You or Dr. Bell? 

    Clarity for this reader would be greatly appreciated. 

     

    • #14
  15. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Dr. David Bell taught me as a published writer with a B.A. in English that I still couldn’t read or write effectively.

    Then as the writer of this sentence Who is the “published writer with a B.A. in English?” You or Dr. Bell?

    Clarity for this reader would be greatly appreciated.

    No commas to isolate “me” and the “published writer” apart from the “BA in English”.

    At least not a sentence fragment.

    • #15
  16. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Dr. David Bell taught me as a published writer with a B.A. in English that I still couldn’t read or write effectively.

    Then as the writer of this sentence Who is the “published writer with a B.A. in English?” You or Dr. Bell?

    Clarity for this reader would be greatly appreciated.

    Who would do the appreciating?

    • #16
  17. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Dr. David Bell taught me as a published writer with a B.A. in English that I still couldn’t read or write effectively.

    Then as the writer of this sentence Who is the “published writer with a B.A. in English?” You or Dr. Bell?

    Clarity for this reader would be greatly appreciated.

    Ha! Me. But you knew that. Commas added.

    • #17
  18. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Love it so far! This comes at a perfect time, since my daughter is just starting The Odyssey in English class. 

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Dr. David Bell taught me as a published writer with a B.A. in English that I still couldn’t read or write effectively.

    Then as the writer of this sentence Who is the “published writer with a B.A. in English?” You or Dr. Bell?

    Clarity for this reader would be greatly appreciated.

    Who would do the appreciating?

    It seems I am a bad influence on you.

    • #19
  20. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Mark Alexander: Dr. David Bell taught me as a published writer with a B.A. in English that I still couldn’t read or write effectively.

    Then as the writer of this sentence Who is the “published writer with a B.A. in English?” You or Dr. Bell?

    Clarity for this reader would be greatly appreciated.

    Who would do the appreciating?

    It seems I am a bad influence on you.

    Not at all.  Not at all.  I’ve always asked “who said?”  Frankly, I knew that was self-referential and I was just making a joke.  I just don’t do it all the time.  :)

    • #20
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