Self-Censorship

The thing with writing is, you never really know the final form until you set your work down in actual words. For myself, the process begins long before I lay my hands on the keyboard, imagining in my mind what it is I am going to write. Often this leads to moments when I stare vacantly into space, my fingers twitching against invisible keys. My wife, who notices these things, at least knows that I am writing in my head. And yet, for all this extended preparation, the outcome can be vastly different from what I originally envisioned. Such is the way of art.

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A Textbook Story

One day someone asked me to endorse the textbook for a course that was to be taught to all university freshmen. Okay, I said, but I’d like to go through the book first, just so I knew what it was I was endorsing.

As I flipped through the pages, I was somewhat put off by the incongruous presentation of the material. Not that there was anything egregiously wrong with it, but the chapters felt like they didn’t flow smoothly. I initially shrugged it off. After all, they would have been using some variation of the same textbook, and this did come from a reputable publisher. If that was what the department wanted to use….

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On Textbooks

This little story is from my time as assistant dean, but it’s been three years, so I guess it’s fine to tell it now.

An officer of the student body approached me with a letter they had drafted. They were raising the issue of teachers who were requiring their classes to purchase textbooks that they themselves had written. I read through and handed it back to her.

“No,” I said.

“No? But…why?!”

“Because it doesn’t quite cover enough of what’s going on. Give me an hour, and I’ll show you what you can really bring up. If you like it, you can make it the official student body position.”

What follows is my version of their complaint (apologies if it’s a little long) —

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