Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Flyover Confession

I have to make a flyover country confession: I do not know what a rising senior or a rising junior is. And I read that a lot in the personality profiles written by Alan’s CSPA students.

Must be an East Coast thing. Maybe they’re all into astrology – that’s the only thing that immediately came to mind with all of these rising juniors and seniors. Maybe it’s good they’re rising, in the house of Gemini or whatever. Better to be rising than descending, and better yet to be rising without colliding with Saturn, if I understand astrology at all.

But no. I’m not convinced it’s astrology. So I made the confession to one of Alan’s students while reading his (or her) essay: Don’t assume people understand the jargon.

Does that apply even if it’s a regional thing? Depends on the case, I suppose. We out here don’t bother to explain what we mean by pop, even though more than half the nation (erroneously) refers to pop as soda. Or coke. We just assume everyone will know what we’re talking about, and if they don’t well, bub, they’d better learn. So it is with rising seniors and juniors. They who be back East know what this means, to be a rising senior or a rising junior. So be it.

That’s a minor issue, of course.

What I’m seeing of greater concern is the same thing I’m seeing in my BYU-Idaho students: Fear of detail. And – surprisingly – what we in Mormon Country call testimony bearing.

Testimony bearing and fear of detail go hand in hand. A writer wants to say good things about a person – say that Alan Murray, for example, is a humble and hard-working person. That’s great. But the detail to back up that testimony is lacking, if there are even hints of the detail at all.

There’s also a fear of follow-up. So a student says he enjoys coaching kids, or that he is in a band. Those facts are duly written down and noted in the story. But rarely is it explained why the student enjoys coaching kids, or what kinds of band the student is in. There’s a veneer of detail, but nothing you can sand through without revealing the Formica beneath.

So Alan’s students are getting the same advice I’m giving mine: Elaborate. Bear your testimony, but then have the detail to back up what you say.

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