Faculty Notes from Jack Kruse

Jack is a friend of mine from college who was and is extraordinarily funny.  Today, he teaches English at the Mountain School in Vermont.  He sent me this collection of rules, which could form the basis of a new style guide.  Published here with the author’s permission…

Faculty Notes: On Rules

In my 10th grade French class, we were not allowed to remove our jackets until we’d asked Mr. Theobald’s permission. If a girl is late for basketball practice at Rivendell Academy, Coach Wilcox makes the captains run suicides. When you’re a teacher you get to construct a little world with any laws you like. I lay down a few rules every week in my classes, and ask my students to keep track of them as they accrue. Teachers generally have good reasons for their rules; sometimes I don’t. Here are some of mine.

Public Speaking Rules

  • Never being a speech with “Okay. Um….”
  • Don’t try to warm up your crowd with a meaningless poll: “How many of you have ever been to a three-ring circus?”
  • Skip apologetic preamble: “I wanted to begin with a poem today, but I couldn’t find a good one, so…”
  • Lose the air quotes. When you’re quoting someone, indicate it with your voice rather than wiggling two fingers on either side of your head.

Writing Rules

  • Write the title of your own essay in whatever font you’re already using. Don’t make it extra big or bold or in some weird font like Braggadocio or Haettenschweiler.
  • No nostrils: You can say how something smelled, but leave your nostrils out of it. “The heady scent of lilac attacked my nostrils”: grotesque.
  • Say me and whoever if you want to: I and whomever may sound more proper, but they usually aren’t. If you don’t have time to work out the grammar, better to make the natural mistake than the prissy one.
  • No Creepy Present Tense: If it’s already happened, put it in the past tense, even if you’re doing creative writing. “It is the morning of my seventh birthday, and it is still dark in grandmother’s shed, where she is teaching me a lesson.” To me this sounds like someone under hypnosis or at a séance. Creepy either way.
  • No Enchanted Forest Anthropomorphism: Another creative writing pitfall, where rocks sit patiently, ferns whisper gently, and brooks beckon. Also creepy.
  • And speaking of beckon, no beckon.
  • No drawing special attention to puns. No saying “no pun intended” after you make a pun. No groaning after someone else does. Puns are fine, sometimes perfect, just like metaphors. But they’re not the lowest form of humor, any more than a metaphor is the lowest form of description.

Hamlet Rules:

  • Don’t say “Therein lies the rub,” thinking you’re quoting Hamlet. In fact, don’t say it at all.
  • Don’t quote Polonius and say Shakespeare said it, “The apparel oft proclaims the man,” for instance. That’s like quoting Templeton the Rat and saying E.B. White said it.

Other Rules:

  • Knockout rules this semester. You must release your own ball to knock away an opponent’s ball. You may not use your ball as a club. You may not join the line if there are only four players left.
  • Sue Kruse’s math class rule: If you’re explaining a problem you solved, you have to stand up and use the blackboard.
  • Susie Rinehart’s mushroom rule: The first time you eat a variety of wild mushroom, don’t eat more than one ounce.
  • Gwynne Durham’s electric fence rule: When passing through a three-strand fence, do not stamp all three strands to the ground. Press the bottom two down and pass under the top one.
  • Alden Smith’s Mountain School Community rule: It’s redundant. Just say Mountain School.

Rules Under Consideration:

  • No casual self-diagnosis of mental disease. As in “Sorry, I’m just OCD about my markers,” or “I’m totally ADD today.” Try fussy, particular, distracted, antsy. I wonder about chocoholic and workaholic, too—in part because they suggest addictions to chocohol and workahol.
  • No more steroids or crack: “It’s like Tetris on steroids; it’s like volleyball on crack.” Enough of this. And while we’re at it, no more “It’s like herding cats.”
  • No more saying “Look, I recycle!” because you have your pencils in a tin can. You don’t call it recycling when you wash your coffee cup and brew some tea in it the next day.
  • No more saying “Rules are made to be broken.” That sounds clever, but it doesn’t mean anything.

If you have any rules, ones you’ve instituted or would like to, please send them to Jack.Kruse@mountainschool.org.

Also drop a line if you have any idea how I should answer the following question if someone asks: “Well, what is the lowest form of humor, then?”

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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