A Delightful Saga of Old Books and English Teachers

big-beautiful-stack-of-booksArt Scheck, writing for The Chronicle tells of attending what I assume is a library sale and garnering armloads of old books. (I was just going through my last sale finds myself, culling overenthusiastic choices and reading through the good picks.)

He speaks of finding a vintage English handbook and purchasing it, delighting in the recorded grades of the student who owned it. He revels in the long division computation of her averaging and remarks, quite accurately to my experience, of the difficulty students have figuring out their own grades with a calculator. (My aside on this is that I weight grades and students must double some grades. Unless I tell them how to figure out their grades, they cannot do it, even when I write the weights on their grades.)

He details another book he found, with 71 (!) essays in it for the reading section, specifically describing one essay.

Called “‘They Write Worse and Worse,'” it’s the work of Adeline Courtney Bartlett, a professor of English at Hunter College in New York City. The piece first appeared in the June 1940 issue of Harper’s magazine, but it could have been written last week.

Speaking to an imaginary colleague she calls Professor A, Bartlett says, “When you were an undergraduate a class of twenty-five to thirty members might have had two A students, five or six B students, eighteen to twenty-three C, D, and F students. The classes you teach divide in much the same way.”

He goes on to discuss problems she mentions that still plague teachers today.

It is a delightful article. Please go read it.

After you do, you might also want to peruse Bartlett’s original article, which is available from Harper’s archives.

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