Something I saw recently on Tumblr brought this to mind, and years later, I’m surprised at how much it still upsets me.
I remember in tenth-grade English class we had to write a short story. There was probably a theme or suggested topic, but I don’t remember that part, or even much of what my story ended up being about. I do remember clearly that one of my characters had an informal way of speaking–he constantly dropped the subject of sentences and used lots of sentence fragments. Taciturn. To the point. Have to keep things moving.
I got my story back covered in red ink, and I was shocked. Upon careful inspection, though, every single “mistake” I made was contained in this character’s dialogue. Every dropped subject had the verb marked as improperly capitalized, and every sentence fragment tagged as such.
I marshaled my argument in favor of my stylistic choices and went to speak to my teacher. But of course, he told me, “Everything has to be grammatically correct.”
“Even in dialogue?” I asked. “Because people use sentence fragments in conversation all the time.”
“Even in dialogue,” he answered.
I was tempted to point out he and I both used a sentence fragment in our exchange, which he let pass without the bat of a single eyelash, and leverage that into getting my red ink washed away. But I’d been in trouble from time to time for excessive back-talk (I was kind of a know-it-all in my school days) and I didn’t want to push my luck when I’d won the moral victory already. Yes, I got a lower grade on that assignment than I should have, but better that than a strike against me towards detention, right?
But it still irks me that the person who was supposed to be educating me on the ins and outs of literature in the English language was so completely short-sighted and stick-up-the-butt about the rules, when I would have liked to challenge him to find a single “classic” we read that year that never broke one. Because I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to.
Yeah, okay, I’m still a little bitter. My English teacher the next year wasn’t much better, but my senior-year teacher? Amazing. She would have loved that story and spent her time and energy on giving me actual feedback instead of nitpicking. I miss her.