Never Too Old to be a Fangirl

After months of anticipation, avid sports fans like my three boys celebrated their Super Bowl last week. Like any supportive mom, I participated willingly, even enthusiastically: buying the obligatory snacks, cheering for their select team, feigning shock and outrage at the outcome. Tough break, Seattle—but you have to admit that was an amazing catch.

Now I sincerely love watching my own boys play football. I have three well-used cowbells to prove that. However, it should come as no surprise that football itself does not move me. I am an English teacher, after all. We don’t get an arena in which to see our favorite teams go head to head. However, I will confess to having waking visions of Fahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies beating the literary tar out of The Hunger Games.

So imagine my surprise and delight to hear the announcement of an event that will be every English teacher’s Super Bowl, World Cup, and Fourth of July all rolled into one.

On July 14, 2015, Harper Lee will debut her second book, Go Set a Watchman. This will be the sequel to her Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, first published in 1960.

Harper Lee sits in the upper gallery of the courtroom on the set of 1962 film based on her award-winning book.

Harper Lee sits in the upper gallery of the courtroom on the set of the 1962 film based on her award-winning book.

I gasped. Wait… it gets better.

Twenty years later after living in New York, Scout—now Jean Louise—returns home to Maycomb, Alabama, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement to visit her father Atticus Finch, the retired lawyer made infamous for defending a black man against a white man’s charges in a small Southern town.

I swooned. How many times I had postulated what became of my Atticus in the years after. Now I would definitively know. Oh, but you haven’t heard the very best part yet.

Harper Lee actually wrote the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman first. It was her publisher who thought the audience needed more explanation of the characters’ history in order for the work to make sense. To Kill a Mockingbird became that back-story, leaving Go Set a Watchman forgotten in the midst of the unexpected and unparalleled success of this young, first-time writer.

I felt faint. What could possibly outdo this? Wait for it.

A longtime fan of the printed word, Harper Lee just recently gave permission for her first novel to be published in electronic form.

A longtime fan of the printed word, Harper Lee just recently gave permission for her first novel to be published in electronic form.

The now 88-year-old author said she is publishing Go Set a Watchman in its original form. She is not going to alter its content in any way.

That’s it. I’m undone. Scrape me off the floor.

Upon telling my husband this news, he replied with his usual careful discernment. This is too convenient, too contrived, he said. A lost manuscript by the original author, rediscovered fifty years later? Sounds too good to be actually true.

Hear me now. I… don’t… care.

I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird for years, even designed a whole month’s worth of curriculum around it. My classes have reveled in the story of how Harper Lee pitched a mound of typewritten pages out of her apartment window, so frustrated with how the story did not seem like it was coming together. I am eternally grateful to the LORD for providing the wise editor who told Lee she better get her galoshes on and pick up every last page. Not to mention for a rare, windless evening in New York City.

So this past Thursday, I announced this monumental event to my English 3 class at the Kyle campus. After I finished, one of my beloved students noted aloud, “Gee, Mrs. Pahlow, it sounded like you just had a fangirl moment.”

Whoa, I thought. He’s right.

For a split second, I was a tad embarrassed by my all-too-apparent show of enthusiasm. In the next second, I was delighted that anyone would refer to me as any kind of “girl,” with my 44th birthday only two weeks away. Then I settled comfortably into the truth: when the right thing happens, you are never too old to be a fangirl.

Like any good fangirl, so I was told, I should now be concerned with how they will convert my soon-to-be beloved book into the inevitable movie. Oh, I shudder to think of it. I might be able to stomach their attempt to cast Go Set a Watchman, providing they choose a venerable actor to play the older Atticus. But Hollywood, if you have any shred of decency or integrity left, please do not embarrass yourself by trying to remake To Kill a Mockingbird. The result will be awful; the reviews, brutal. Just remember what you did to Gatsby, and let it go.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.  Correction... Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Correction… Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch.

Just in case Hollywood is listening, here is a bit of advice from fellow fangirl Lauren Filippo, one of my English 3 students in Kyle. In response to the assignment to write a true satire, one which would make fun of a situation or behavior but not an individual person, she created this gem:

How NOT to Make a Movie Out of a Book

When producing a movie based on a book, actually reading the book should never be done. Instead, read a summary online. Better yet, ask someone else to give you the thirty-second version. After all, you’re making a movie. You don’t have time to read.

Be sure to adjust the characters to your liking, both in personality and appearance. Main characters should be altered as needed. Naturally, minor characters should be replaced or erased from the story completely. The odds that fans of the book will care or even notice are slim.

Add as much objectionable material to the movie as you can. Push the meaning of PG with as much language, inappropriate content, and gore as possible. By including these elements, you will attract an older crowd. Most fans certainly won’t mind hearing their favorite characters swear every five minutes.

Change the dialogue beyond recognition. You should make the new script as cheesy and cliché as possible. Never should you make a conversation relevant to the original scene or—heaven forbid—actually quote the book.

Without a doubt, your top priority should be to keep the movie short and simple.  Cram in as much fighting as possible. Change or even discard entire scenes for the sake of brevity, no matter how important they are to the book’s plotline. If a scene can’t be described in a single sentence, it’s too complicated.

Whenever possible, add romance between characters. Although it may not be in the book, fans will surely appreciate it. Honestly, it’s not like the thousands of fangirls read the book because they actually liked the story.

Never so much as consider ending the movie with a cliffhanger, especially if that’s how the book ends. Doing so would only make more people want to read the book to see what happens. You want to attract attention to your movie, not the book. Let the author do his own advertising.

Always avoid tragedy, unless it’s of your own invention. For example, if a character dies in the book, be sure to keep him alive in the movie, no matter how illogical his survival may seem. However, if you decide a character is no longer essential, discard him despite what may have happened in the book.

While filming and editing the scenes themselves, put more effort into interesting music and dramatic special effects than the dialogue or acting quality. An explosion can easily make up for a poorly communicated plot detail, however vital that detail may be.

Never under any circumstances should you consistently follow the book’s plotline. Twist or even completely rewrite the story to make it more action-packed. While the book might include an interesting plot twist or battle strategy, your movie should be as straightforward and obvious as possible. The audience can then know what the movie is about without having to pay attention.

Remember, your goal is to make the movie the same as the book in title only. Minor details such as storyline are irrelevant.

Lauren would like to know if anyone has Peter Jackson’s email address. She has a few bones to pick.

For the Love of Scrabble

Proof of Joel's well-earned bragging rights.

Proof of Joel’s well-earned bragging rights.

I am indefinably, irrepressibly, and unreservedly in love with the game of Scrabble. There, I said it.

This epic affair started young. I grew up in the 70s, when Saturday morning commercials buzzed with praise for the latest fare from Parker Brothers. In my world, grown-ups were required by law to congregate regularly at friends’ houses on Friday nights to play their favorite board games. Thanks to its two extra leaves, our dining room table quickly transformed into the perfect arena.

For this eight-year-old, it meant three things: extra sodas in the fridge, never-ending bowls of chips, and Scrabble.

Risk Night was boring. Clue Night took forever. But I absolutely loathed being told it was bedtime on Scrabble Night. Often I attempted reconnaissance missions from the shadow of the fireplace, but the cheap plastic on the bottom of my yellow footed pajamas scraped too loudly against the linoleum. Busted me every time.

For me, wooden racks and checkered boards symbolized adulthood. One day I too would arrive.

Fast-forward 28 years… My eight-year-old son Nick sat expectantly across the table, the board and bag of tiles between us. His big blue eyes sparkled with anticipation. Decades went into preparing exactly what words would be uttered on this momentous occasion, his Scrabble Initiation Day. I knew he would remember them his whole life.

“Okay, are you ready, sweetie?” I beamed.  “Mommy’s fixin’ to kick your butt.”

“Um… what?”

“Realistically, I will continue to kick your butt for… oh, maybe five or six more years.”

“But…”

“However, I make you a solemn promise this day: I will always play my best, starting right now. Mommy never, ever throws a game, and neither will you.”

“Okay…”

“So when that day comes that you do beat me—and believe me, that glorious day will come—there will be absolutely no doubt in your mind that you, my son, were the better player. Do we have a deal?”

That same deal has since been struck with three other siblings. While I cannot claim that my children are avid readers or even like English, I do know that all four would drop their iPads in a heartbeat for a chance to wipe up the floor with Mommy at a game of Scrabble. And on those glorious days when they did, they knew those bragging rights were well earned indeed.

Of course, from the outset I modified our own set of house rules to encourage my budding little Scrabble aficionados:

1. Nine tiles instead of seven. When they were little, this gave much-needed variety in their choice of letters. As they got older, this variety significantly increased their chances of achieving the much-coveted BINGO, a 50-point bonus for using seven or more tiles in a single play. The day my son’s first play of the game stretched from the middle star to the triple word score, I nearly wept with joy.

2. Personalized point goals. While they were in training, setting appropriate goals always put victory within their grasp. I once read that a good Scrabble player can score over 300 points in a two-person game, so this was my goal. When my kids were under ten-years-old, their goal was 100 points. Each year according to their progress, I tacked on an additional 50 to 75 points. Therefore, they only competed against themselves until such time as they achieved 300-point status. Then the gloves came off.

3. Unlimited use of the dictionary. That’s right. No challenging or the subsequent penalties if a word is misspelled. This evened the playing field between my kids who already loved to spell and those who needed practice and encouragement. I picked up the latest paperback edition of the official Scrabble Player’s dictionary online for around $5, which lists significantly more words per page than a conventional dictionary. I purposely eschewed the electronic alternatives in favor of actual paper pages with guide words. It constantly assured me that my little ones did indeed know how to alphabetize.

4. Give them “lifelines.” Regis Philbin allowed his contestants three, so that seemed a good place to start. Kids under ten got three chances to “phone a friend” for help with their most difficult racks. Funny how I was always that friend. The teacher in me pounced on the opportunity to shuffle through every possible configuration of words with the silent –e before finally arriving at a word with five whole letters. As their personalized goals increased over time, their number of lifelines decreased. This habit is by far the toughest to break for all of us. Call me a big softie, but I cave every time my now sixteen-year-old looks at me with those same big blue eyes and says, “Mom, can I still have just one lifeline?”

Now that I teach beyond my dining room table, my love of Scrabble has elevated to heights previously unimagined. Semi-annual Student Scrabble tournaments take place on the last day of each semester in upper-level English classes on every One Day Academy campus. At the end, students may receive prizes for the highest overall score, the most points scored in a single play, or the most creative word as voted by the class. Meanwhile I flit about from board to board (I have fourteen and counting), explaining the house rules and giving out lifelines. Sometimes I even bring chips and sodas. Lucky for them I leave the pajamas at home.

During the latest tournament this past week, I had the extraordinary pleasure of playing one of the most stimulating, most challenging Scrabble games thus far. The opponent was my beloved Bastrop Cornerstone student Joel Benoit, who has been with me since English 1 and is now preparing to deliver his senior thesis in English 5 this May. He is a truly stellar young man in every way.

After volleying at one another for almost an hour, Joel breaks away with STRUNTING on a triple word score and seals my fate. Final score: Joel, 452 – Mrs. P, 368.

Congratulations, Joel—You have arrived. Never have I been so happy about losing.

I Can’t Think of What to Write

My piece of beauty from the ashes

My piece of beauty from the ashes

Last week marked the start of this year’s poetry unit in English 2, another perennial favorite of mine.  But no matter how enthusiastic as I am, it never fails.  The minute I mention the word “poetry”, a chorus of disgruntled boys echo such sentiments as:

“Wasn’t poetry written by a bunch of men in tights?”

“Isn’t it just about duckies and bunnies and flowers in spring?”

“Poetry is for girls.”

Since this is not my first rodeo, I am quick with a reply. “Gentlemen, would you permit me one minute to convince you that poetry can be relevant and—dare I say it—enjoyable?”

I haven’t met a class yet that could resist the challenge.  The clock is ticking.

“First question… The original short stories you turned in last week were eight to ten pages each.  What if I were to tell you that your new poetry assignment this week could be accomplished in ten lines?”

Male heads nod in obvious approval.  My boys do appreciate efficiency.

“Second question… What if I were to tell you that you could write your poem about football?  Orcs?  Japanese swords?  Your last hunting trip?  Even about how much you dislike poetry?”

Big smiles.  Speak on, Teacher.  You are talking my language.

“Last question… What if I told you that your poem did not have to rhyme?”

Cha-ching.  Sold.  With twenty seconds to spare.

With this first objection surmounted, it is time to tackle the excuse that has plagued English teachers since the dawn of the chalkboard:  “But I can’t think of what to write.”

Here we seek to find exactly from whence doth inspiration flow.  Since every student is different, it stands to reason that the method of inspiration that works well for one might not suit another.  For each of the “tests” below, students write for two minutes and then count up the number of words.  Then they rank the tests in descending order, recognizing that the top three are the first methods they should use to generate their ideas:

Whatever Comes – For two minutes, ask them to write as many words, phrases, thoughts, or images that pop into their heads.  Typically this is slow-going and met with many blank stares.  Yet if you make them persevere, a reward awaits.  All but one or two will have this as their lowest scoring test, which proves a point:  if you are passively sitting on your bed or at your desk, waiting for inspiration to strike, you will probably be there a long time.

Meditating on Objects – John Keats wrote a three-page poem called “An Ode to a Grecian Urn”.  That’s an old, dusty Greek pot, people.  How did he get so much out of so little?  He contemplated the possible back-story of the piece, what king’s hands may have touched it and so on, and viola!  Instant poetry.

For this two-minute test, supply them with an object that does not appear very impressive but has a compelling history for you to share.  I bring in a rather large rusty, damaged metal cross that was once so pristine and polished it shone blue, a homemade gift welded by one of my former English 2 students.  So fetching was it that it earned a coveted spot on my living room wall.  There it remained, as the 2,000-degree flames that tore through Bastrop two years ago destroyed my house.  Not only was that cross the first thing that was recovered from the debris, but it was also a clear sign that the LORD was very present in the midst of our suffering.  Not such a hunk of junk after all.

Try the same tests with a piece of music, verse from Scripture, and a scene from nature.  Unlike other stunts, you are very welcome to try these at home.   You are also very welcome to share your results here.

Why I Love This Generation

Lunchtime photo bomb at the College Station campus.

Lunchtime photo bomb at the College Station campus.

“Rather than love, than fame, than money, give me truth.”  —Henry David Thoreau

I spend most of my waking hours teaching young people.  From the little ones in baby-bear chairs around our Sunday school circle, to the adolescents with the audacity to be a foot taller than I am, I love them.

As I sit here, I am hard-pressed to explain such love.  Perhaps it’s a teacher-thing.  At times I wish I could throw my arms around them and literally squeeze the potential out of them, if that were possible.  Their minds are agile, their insights are sharp, and their questions are probing.  I am this generation’s biggest cheerleader.  I would enthusiastically ring my cowbell for the lot of them.

This is precisely why I scowl when members of our generation mock their abilities, insult their intelligence, or degrade their character.

My dear friends, here is the hard, painful truth:

  • If the younger generation is lazy, then it is because our generation has neither taught them to work honorably nor delivered the proper consequences when they failed to do so.
  • If the younger generation is distracted, then it is because our generation has produced, marketed, and encouraged so many outlets for illusion and fantasy that they prefer living in a dream world to living in the real one.
  • If the younger generation is immoral, then it is because our generation has forgotten that we are all born as little selfish clots of grievances which have to be deliberately trained and virtuously educated into decent human beings.

Ouch.  I felt the sting of that slap, too.  The LORD clearly never granted license to separate “us” from “them”, because He knows they are our responsibility.  When we disparage the younger generation, we are actually convicting ourselves.

But here’s the good news… If there is one thing that my years in the classroom have taught me, it’s that the pendulum swings both ways.  I would even go so far as to say this:  our younger generation possesses the greatest potential for unabashed selflessness, unswerving devotion, and uncompromising integrity.  So much so, witnessing it might make the rest of us Christians feel downright uncomfortable.

If pressed, this younger generation readily grasps what took Solomon a lifetime of cumulative wisdom to surmise:  all is vanity.  Meaninglessness.  Physical, emotional, and intellectual satisfaction for a fleeting moment, and then it’s gone.   They are constantly confronted with the sordid after-effects in their social media, in their communities, perhaps even in their own families.  However, behind their detours into laziness, distraction, and immorality, they cry out for something substantial, something unchangeable, something real.

  • This generation yearns for the truth.   Specifically, this is the absolute, unalterable, perfect truth of Jesus Christ.  It cannot be changed on anyone’s personal whim.  It does not cater to anyone’s private desires.  It will not conform to anyone’s political agenda.  It spans centuries, and yet it is as intimate as a father’s embrace.  Most importantly, it will remain as it always has been, whether we choose to accept it or not.  This is the very definition of truth.
  • This generation yearns for proof of this truth.  If there is one thing these kids can sniff out in a heartbeat, it’s a phony.  Not only should our generation be equipped to supply biblical and historical proof of what we believe, but we best be ready to give our own reasons for the hope that lies within us.  If Jesus Christ has cleansed us of destructive habits, rescued us from the occult, saved our marriages, or brought our wayward children home, we owe it to Him to lead transparent lives, whether it hurts our pride or not.  This is the very reason such testimonies were entrusted to us.
  • This generation yearns to live this truth.  More to the point, be this truth.  They will not only be willing but eager to lay down the trappings of this world.  These are the ones who move to South Africa, spending their days rocking AIDS babies abandoned in the local garbage dump.  These are the ones who teach the Bible to the underground church in China, where the citizens love Christ at their own peril.  These are the ones who are not afraid to risk everything, whether it costs them their lives or not.  This is the powerful confidence of knowing Whom you serve.

This is the generation which holds my heart.  I thank God for such a privilege.

LORD, I ask for the hearts of these precious ones.  Reveal the rampant deceptions before them.  Permit them to wholly dedicate themselves to You and the truth of Jesus Christ.  Strengthen them to stand boldly and bravely until You come or call them home.  You are amazing.

The Sweet Mask of Slavery

harrison picTHE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law.  They were equal every which way.  Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else.  Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.  All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

So begins “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, English 3’s latest piece of short fiction.  In fact, it is probably best described as a short, sharp shock of fiction.  To see what I mean, I invite you to take an extra ten minutes and view the story for yourself at http://www.tnellen.com/westside/harrison.pdf.  We wouldn’t want to be unequal in our understanding of the subject, now would we?

Several elements of “Harrison” intrigue me.  First, it is an example of true satire, which should accomplish three things:

  • Criticize an idea or behavior, not degrade an individual or group of persons
  • Expose this human folly as a means of spurring change in the reader
  • Provoke thought by causing the reader to question his previous assumptions

True satire is clever.  True satire is deliberate.  Too many news shows and social commentaries bill themselves as satirical, when they simply hide behind the term to justify poking fun at someone they don’t particularly like.  Several years ago, I was so disappointed in one conservative commentator after he showed a photo of Helen Thomas, the oldest member of the White House Press Corps, and called her the “Wicked Witch of the West”.  After receiving a slew of disparaging email from Republicans and Democrats alike, rightly criticizing him for mocking an old woman’s physical appearance, he replied, “Hey, it’s political satire… Can’t you all take a joke?”

Indeed, he has the freedom to act like a jerk on national television if he so chooses.  Just don’t call it satire.

This story is also a teachable example of dark humor.  This term has myriad definitions and morbid degrees of application, especially in what now passes for secular comedy.  However, in the literary sense, students should not only recognize what it is but also recognize the heart behind those who revel in it.  To be blunt, dark humor is funny only because the situation is not happening to you.  While readers may readily snicker at a masked ballerina weighed down with sacks of bird shot, I am fairly sure that the beautiful, talented girl underneath all that hardware is not sharing in the joke.

Finally, one three-tiered theme in “Harrison Bergeron” is literally inescapable:

  • Enforcing equality is hypocritical.  Ask yourself, “Is everyone handicapped?”  Those H-G men must think for more than twenty seconds at a time to come up with all those brilliant ideas for the handicaps.  Exactly how many shots did it take for the Handicapper General to bring down her prey?  So why doesn’t she wear glasses to correct her obviously excellent aim?  Clearly, someone has to be unequal in order to keep the “equal” in line.
  • Enforcing equality is absurd.  To what lengths will a society go to prevent those less talented, less wealthy, and less attractive from feeling like “something the cat dragged in?”  How far will the standards in education, performance, and intelligence have to fall to achieve this coveted equality?  Would we want to live in a society like that?  Would we even have a choice?
  • Enforcing equality is treacherous.  Dare I say it, evil.  How much does one have to hate or fear his fellow man to devise such an intricate system, solely to keep him from reaching his God-given potential?  Couch this concept in whatever terms you wish, but it still remains the sweet mask of slavery.

So much more we can discuss, beloved students.  Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Get it, chimes?  Those who read the story appreciate that little pun.

The Big Screen Pitch!

Elliott Dean immerses himself in the role as a Scottish lord for the Kyle campus's Big Screen Pitch.  Megan Stanford is speechless.

Elliott Dean immerses himself in the role as a Scottish lord for the Kyle campus’s Big Screen Pitch. Megan Stanford is speechless.

The short story unit in English 2 is one of my treasured favorites, culminating each year with the Big Screen Pitch:  an in-class event where students pitch their own original short story ideas to a big-time movie executive (me) willing to invest millions in producing this summer’s next big blockbuster.

While dressed in their best attire—meaning no jeans, T-shirts, or sneakers—these aspiring young screenwriters present their plots, settings, and desired actors on story boards or PowerPoints.  The artistic bring in friends to model the costumes.  The ambitious create stunningly professional movie trailers.  The astute bring brownies, pizza, or popcorn for the class to enjoy during their presentations.  Their enthusiasm and creativity are on full display.  It truly delights my heart.

Even more so because this particular surge of creativity was hard-earned indeed.

The one type of story that instantly awakens my students’ attention is the milieu (MILL-yoo) story, in which the most important aspect is the setting.  This is because milieu stories include the fantasy genre, since the time and place usually have such a deep impact on the characters and culture.

The minute I mention the word “fantasy” in class, the whispers circulate:  “Oh, I am going to write about a boy traveling to another dimension and…”, “My character is going to be a superhero from a distant planet who…”, “Mine is going to be in a futuristic society where…”

Then I lower the boom.  “This being said,” I declare, “I have only one stipulation for the writing of your own original short stories.  No fantasy allowed.”

The room falls silent.  Mouths drop open.

“You mean, no time traveling?”

“That’s what I mean.”

“No alternate universes?”

“Nope.”

“What about kids with superpowers?”

“Do you know any kids with superpowers?”

“Well… no.”

“Then… no.”

This goes on for another five minutes or so before someone finally asks what everyone is already thinking:  “So… what are we going to write about?”

So glad they asked.  Enter the genre of historical fiction.  First, I instruct them to select a country on this planet existing sometime in the known past or present.  Next, select a specific year or time period in which this earthly country existed.  Now they have a real setting which they can research thoroughly, providing everything they need for a believable backdrop to their story:  from the geography and the weather to the laws, customs, beliefs, and fashion.  Pay attention during your research, I tell them, and I promise you’ll see your story idea bubble up to the surface.

The results are remarkable and humbling.  These students venture into the jungles of Vietnam, the arena of the Roman Colosseum, the crematories at Auschwitz, and hidden rooms during the Siege of Masada.  They show me the cherry blossoms of Japan, the mammoth pyramids of Egypt, the dusty trails of Oregon, and the sooty streets of London.  I even revisited the unrelenting flames of Bastrop that destroyed my house, courtesy of another student who had also lost his.

With extra rows of chairs to accommodate the crowd of visiting family members, the environment morphs from a classroom into a theater, from an ordinary day into a indelible memory.  Two years back, my son narrated his great-grandfather’s story as a French-American pilot shot down over occupied France during World War II, surviving six months in the forests at night and nervously blending into a nearby village overrun with armed Germans by day.  It was a tender moment when I saw my own father, whom my son personally invited, struggling to hold back tears.

Perhaps this is why the Big Screen Pitch is so dear to me.  It sets safe boundaries and grants complete freedom within them.  It allows students to shine and their loved ones to watch.  It changes everyone involved.

It encompasses everything I love about being a teacher.

Peace, Love, and Apostrophes

apostrophe pic“If I could teach the world to sing one set of grammar rules…”

Every year I say this to my Elementary English 4/5 and English 1 classes, usually to the tune of that old Coca-Cola commercial I heard every Christmas as child.  I am just tickled to my core that the LORD has allowed the first entry of this blog to be about something so petty and yet so dear to my heart.  That’s one of the reasons I love Him so.

First, I have my class repeat after me with great enthusiasm and fervor: “There are no apostrophes in plurals!”  Grasp how liberating it is to know that not every word that ends in an –s demands that little floating comma.  If that word simply means more than one of something, just save yourself the extra keystroke and smile.

Apostrophes denote possession of something.  If you have a word than intends to own something else, you need only to remember these three little rules:

RULE #1:  If the possessive noun is singular, add –’s.  It doesn’t matter if the noun already ends in an –s or even –ss; add that –’s.  Does it look weird?  Yes.  It is grammatically correct?  Yes.  This means it is the puppy’s bowl or the class’s teacher.  Alas, it saddens my heart to say that my NIV translation is one of the worst offenders of this rule.  Every time it mentions Jesus’ disciples, I whisper silently, “Forgive them, Father.  They know not what they do.”

RULE #2:  If the possessive noun is plural ending in an –s, just add an apostrophe after it.  If more than one puppy owns a bowl, it is the puppies’ bowl.  If more than one class owns a teacher, she is the classes’ teacher.  Can you see now why Jesus’ doesn’t make any sense?  It implies that there is more than one Jesu who happens to own some disciples.

RULE #3:  If the possessive noun is plural and does not end in an –s, add –’s.  This ending is just like Rule #1.  If more than one child owns a playground, it is the children’s playground.  If more than one mouse owns some cheese, it is the mice’s cheese.  Once I actually bought a stick of generic-brand deodorant from Wal-Mart that I didn’t even need because it proudly declared in big, bold letters on the front label, “Mens’ Deodorant”.  When was the last time your husband declared, “Hey, honey!  Me and the mens are going bowling tonight.”

I now realize to my horror that I have probably confirmed the worst fears of every parent that has ever contacted me:  that I have corrected their e-mails with a mental red pen.  Not so, my sweet friends.  Outside of class, such Grammar Nazism is strictly reserved for blunders on large billboards, store-front signs, and those black wipe-off boards that display the daily specials at restaurants.  My husband has threatened to leave me home the next time he sees my thumb reaching for an offending apostrophe on one of those things.  Pray for me.