I entered college with a mind full of things which are on the minds of eighteen year old boys away from home, which was not English.
All freshmen had to take an English proficiency exam to determine whether they should be placed in English 101 (remedial) or 103. Having been found deficient, I was assigned to Miss Heron (English 101) for four hours a week for four months of diagraming sentences, introduction to the dictionary, the thesaurus, the library card catalogue, the Dewey Decimal System and White and Strunk’s The Elements of Style. I felt like I was in Marine Boot Camp but with English grammar instead of an M-1 rifle to field strip, to clean and have inspected by my drill sergeant, Miss Heron.
When I finally got over that wall, the second semester arrived, and I was invited to join English 104, where I met Miss Elizabeth Hope Jackson, the Guardian of the Western Canon. Miss Jackson adopted me as a charity case. For example, I spoke a word for the structure which covers a house. In front of the entire class, Miss Jackson, loudly and patronizingly announced: “Mr. Rogers, ‘ruff’ is what a dog says; the top of a house is pronounced: ‘RUUUUPH”.
Miss Jackson required that if I was to be hypodermically injected with some of Miss Jackson’s literature wisdom, I would have to pay for it, as did Liza Doolittle, by learning and using Miss Jackson’s enunciation.
For the next eighteen months, four hours a week, she alligator-wrestled with my language skills. No multiple choice exams for Miss Jackson! Every exam was a “blue book” written essay. Red ink notes and corrections filled all the space of my margins. Each misspellings was a half-letter grade off whether or not the content was accurate. Repeat again and again.
Now, decades latter, as I write down my thoughts in a blog, I hear myself exclaiming: “Look at me, Miss Jackson, no hands!”