Philip Roth once wrote that “the ecstasy of sanctimony” is America’s “oldest communal passion.” This is difficult to argue with, but I will suggest a runner-up. Our culture values oppression to an alarming degree. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to think of our rights as under assault. The annual War on Christmas pageant is a good example and far from the only one. America is a great reality show with assorted victims clamoring for the right to be, “The Biggest Loser.” Often this quest is presented as resistance to some form of conspiracy or another under the auspices of “The Man” (Mainstream Media, Religious Right etc…). This, I suppose, provides us with the ecstatic experience Roth noted and offers a righteousness to justify our indignation. Whenever we perceive that something stands against our rights to behave or think in a particular way, we must fight said Man.
Well, I am part of the conspiracy this time. I am The Man.
I have decided to ban a certain term from my classroom. The term is “flow.” I was astonished this semester at the degree to which my composition students depend on this term. Dependence, however, is not the worst part. The word has the capability of impairing thought to such a degree that I think its user should not be allowed to drive a motor vehicle. I will explain in a moment.
Predictably, when confronted about it, my students did what any good freedom-loving American would do. They assumed defensive postures and declared that their high school teachers said it was a good word to use in intelligent writing. They’ve apparently been made to believe that the term contains some kind of meaning and my challenging them was paramount to robbing them of their rhetorical principles. The battle-lines were drawn.
Students who use this term in class discussion will be mercilessly ridiculed. Those brave, indignant warriors who righteously stand against my tyranny and dare use it in their papers anyway will lose points. They will lose many many points. I will crush this particular class of victim.
The reader may wish for an explanation and that is fair. Here is a typical sentence using the banned term:
The ideas in this essay really flow well.
This may seem harmless enough, but the term is vacant and therefore the thinking of the student is limited and shoddy. I assume that what the flow-monger means is that the essay’s author provides a logical structure to his or her argument, with one claim laying the foundation for the next, and he or she uses transitions to effectively guide the reader through the essay’s argument. The use of the term-which-shall-not-be-named hurries through this more detailed kind of analysis in order to provide an unsatisfying evaluation.
It’s like calling a movie good. What makes it good? Well I liked it. So what makes it good is that you liked it? I guess I don’t really want to put much thought into it; it’s just a movie. The reviewer in this hypothetical case simply doesn’t want to think. He only wants to be entertained. This vile term, similarly, is a short-cut in thinking and this will not do in my class.
In all honesty, though. If this were the extent of the vulgarity of the term’s usage, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. It get’s worse.
The writer flows his evidence really well.
You see my concern. Once we allow this monstrous term into our classrooms, it infects our very minds. Thinking will cease and life as we know it will end.
I’m not an ogre. I have tried to kindly and humorously explain to them that their teachers were fools and their whole rhetorical way of life is a lie. I tell them that this word’s linguistic function is no different than the term “smurf” in The Smurfs. When Smurfette tells Jokey that his jokes are “just smurfy,” and Brainy tells Papa that he saw Gargamel and “got the smurf out of there,” we know what they mean. That doesn’t mean this is a appropriate language system, though.
We don’t live in mushrooms. Although I’m sure they provide quality air flow.