Doug and Ana on handwriting & the SAT

I hadn’t thought of this (from Doug):

One of the many advantages of the days when secondary schools had shop classes was that among those sort of practical, skill-based classes was drafting. And a part of drafting was learning to letter precisely and carefully.

Of course, those were also the days of explicit and meticulous handwriting lessons in grade school.

And I love this from Ana:

My brother was always a math wiz in school, but one high school teacher gave him B’s–the horror! It was entirely due to neatness. He straightened up quickly, aced the class and went on to major in math in college.

With Ana’s brother, I have to think there’s a connection between the initial Bs for sloppiness and the math major in college — if only because discipline breeds discipline.

Our unconscious minds are a subject of endless fascination to me. I’m pretty sure that we ‘observe’ ourselves unconsciously in some way, so that if we see ourselves taking care we conclude that we do care.

Ana’s nephew may have seen himself taking pains to write his numerals and symbols neatly and concluded that math mattered.

Perfect handwriting, perfect score

An SAT tutor tells me that three of her students have had perfect scores on the SAT essay.

All three were L2 students (English as a second language), and all three had perfect handwriting.

Perfect. Handwriting.

That’s the key.

(And great tutoring, in this case.)

My thought: every student who will be taking the SAT should buy a copy of Write Now: The Complete Program For Better Handwriting and start practicing.

The before-and-after samples of physician handwriting are a stitch.

(I marched C. through half the book when he was in 5th grade, I think it was. I should have  marched him through the whole thing, but I didn’t have the strength, what with the daily math re-teaching and MegaWords. My own handwriting improved tremendously, however.)

It’s tough to be a kid

I’ve been working with a few high school students on their history papers,1 and have now heard the same thing often enough that I assume this must be happening in a lot of places:

My teacher doesn’t want us to write a 3-part thesis statement.

My teacher doesn’t want us to write a list in our thesis statement.

My teacher says not to answer the question in our thesis statement.

These are all different ways of saying the same thing: don’t do what teachers used to tell you to do. Because the things teachers used to tell you to do are formulaic and bad.

These poor kids.

Here’s a question: what does a thesis statement that doesn’t answer the question look like?

I don’t know.

“My teacher doesn’t want us to write a list” turns out to mean, in one case, that the teacher does want students to write a list, but the items on the list must appear in separate sentences.

So, if your argument is “The three principal causes of WWII were X, Y, and Z,” you can’t write “The three principal causes of WWII were X, Y, and Z” because lists are bad.

Instead you have to write four sentences, with X, Y, and Z as separate “forecasting” sentences, all inside your introductory paragraph. A thesis stack, basically.

“WWII had three principal causes.” [THESIS]

“One cause was X.” [FORECASTING SENTENCE #1]

“Another cause was Y.” [FORECASTING SENTENCE #2]

“Finally, a third cause was Z.” [FORECASTING SENTENCE #3]

Looks like a list to me.

This takes me back to C’s days in NYU’s “Writing the Essay” class, where the concept of “the essay” was so obscure I forced C. to ask his instructor, directly, whether thesis statements were allowed.

They weren’t.

“Don’t write a thesis statements” apparently meant “ask a thesis question” instead. Which is still a formula. 

The only difference being that “write a thesis question” was a formula the instructors kept to themselves.

1. Katie and I are both taking clients, by the way.  I make Ed help, so ….. it’s a pretty good deal.  


Doug mentioned John McWhorter …. I’m a huge fan.

Here he is on blaccents.

Very worth your time.

McWhorter’s social dilemma is that he is black, but he sounds white.  He has no idea why.

In the passage below, he’s completely right about the brain’s division of labor between conscious and unconscious ‘computations,’by the way.

The expectation that a black person will sound black is unconscious; the recognition that a black person sounds white is conscious. And not in a good way, for McWhorter.

Given that I am the kind of black person who is often termed “articulate,” it may seem surprising that I spend much of my life feeling quite thick of tongue. I am one of those unfortunate black people who sound white. It is, of all things, a social handicap.


I hardly consider myself significantly oppressed on this score. It is well documented that sounding black on the phone makes you less likely to be shown an apartment or house or to get a job interview. A black kid who uses Black English in school is often criticized by teachers and thought less intelligent. Classic experiments have shown that people’s evaluation of someone reading a passage changes according to whether it’s read by a white or black person. The black voice is rated less favorably—considered less bright, less friendly. My burden, in comparison, is a mere personal cross to bear, worse than having a hard-to-spell name but hardly on the order of being denied services and thought dim. Yet to an extent that few would have reason to know, I suffer.

When you’re black and you sound just like a white person, it puts a lot of black people off. The vast majority of black Americans, including educated ones, are identifiable as black from their speech; the “black sound” is a subconscious but near-universal hallmark of black American culture. This means that if you are black, upon meeting you, a great many black people will tacitly expect that the two of you will speak more similarly to one another—at the very least in terms of that certain “sound”—than either of you do to white people. That similarity is an index of acceptance and warmth in a society that looks askance on black people in so many ways. Then it turns out that you don’t sound similar, despite your black face. The wrong voice is coming out of you.

Although the expectation that you were going to sound black was not conscious, the fact that you don’t is processed quite consciously: it’s the discrepancy that elicits attention.

Thick of Tongue by John McWhorter 3/15/2016