Tuesday, January 28, 2014


It is no secret that I make my living through teaching.  As part of that teaching, I have my students make substantive posts to discussion boards I set up through the campus information system.  The posts often exemplify hurried student writing, hammered out in a flurry of "get-it-done-so-I-don't-fail-the-class" and not substantially (or, I often think, minimally) revised for content, clarity, or diction.  (That even the English majors, who ought to know better, do it is...troubling.)  As such, I find a number of examples of interesting bits of filler phrase in what they submit, including some particularly annoying instances of the trite.

One of them is "In my personal opinion."  It is problematic for a couple of reasons.  First, as I perhaps need to remind my students, what a writer writes is presumed to be a report of the writer's understanding or opinion unless otherwise indicated.  Accordingly, there is markedly little need to announce that an opinion is one.  (The only one that comes to mind is in direct juxtaposition with the stated opinion of another, as in Graff and Birkenstein's title model.)  Second among the problems of the phrase is redundancy.  Students are rarely in a position to voice an opinion on behalf of an agency or group (at least in my class discussions), and they rarely argue points from those perspectives in which they may claim to have opinions as professionals.  The opinions they voice are therefore necessarily personal, and so calling the opinions they voice "personal opinions" is needless.

Another is "The reading was impactful for me."  Again, the statement is problematic.  The "for me" is needless for the same reason that "personal" above is needless: the student is not empowered to speak on behalf of another and will therefore necessarily only speak on her/his own behalf.  In addition, "impactful" reads as a buzzword, one formed through a process common to English-language adjectival formation but that comes off as a needless neologism, one inserted in an abortive attempt to "sound smart" by one who has not done enough reading in the field to know what smart sounds like in it.  (I think it is something not uncommon to other fields, which, if true, offers some justification; at least it conforms to some disciplinary standards.)  The construction grates, and I need to lead my students to stop writing such things--at least when handling what I ask them to handle.

Given such things, it appears that I need to offer instruction to my students not only in the direct details of their courses, but in how to process and handle those details.  Doing so, of course, will provoke outcry.  It is not explicitly listed among the course competencies listed in my course materials (although I can easily make the argument that it is subsumed in what is explicit on the syllabus), and students and administration will doubtlessly complain thereof.  The broader public may well, too, as to train students out of lazy language can be read as the dreaded "indoctrination" all too easily ("He's not even letting them voice their opinions!  He's denying their authentic voices!").  (I spend much time anticipating opposition.)  I am caught, therefore, between conflicting demands: teaching students what I think they need to know and not prompting the kind of complaint that can lead to my not being reappointed.  For my position is precarious, and I well know it...

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