“There have been laws passed to make college life a little easier.”

If the peeved e-mails I received after posting grades last semester are any indication, the laws referred to here haven’t had enough effect to please a lot of students.

I think what the writer meant was that Pell grants have been increased; but I could be wrong. Maybe she knows something I don’t know.

I try to stop students from beginning sentences with “There,” as in “There are,” “There is,” “There have been,” “There should be,” “There seems to be.” Stylistically, beginning a sentence with a place-holding pronoun (the noun that expresses the actual content-subject of the sentence will be revealed after the verb) and a verb of being is like entering a room by backing through the door. In effect, the sentence begins with a question mark and an equal sign: NO energy, in the part of the sentence (subject-verb) where the reader expects to find most of the energy. And conceptually, beginning a sentence with “there” is an invitation to vagueness, and student writers usually accept that invitation. There have been people, there should be laws, there is a belief, there are ways, there seems to be a problem—in the hands of young writers, such beginnings generally lead into sentences that make the fuzziest of points, the sweepingest of generalizations, the glibbest of assertions.

This sentence is such a sentence. “Laws,” “college life,” and “easier” are undefined in this sentence and never did get clarified in the paragraph that followed, which went forward into more generalizations rather than taking time with the opening one.

And so, like any sentence with generalized or abstract terms, it invites the reader to fill in the meaning. I am that kind of reader.

If I recall correctly—and this “if” becomes increasingly subject to debate as the years roll by—college life back when I was living it wasn’t all that easy. In fact, for the most part it was damned hard. The funny thing, though, is that it was also intensely enjoyable, stimulating, and inspiring. As a friend back then said approvingly of our gang, “We study hard, and then we party hard.” We also involved ourselves to a greater or lesser degree in national politics, civil rights efforts, and community service on and off campus. And a lot of us used a good portion of our “spare time” to participate in the arts. All this, and dating angst too! Life was rich. I don’t think I used the word “boring” more than once a semester, if that.

Now my students complain often about the various things that are boring. They spend a lot of time cybertalking or phoning with friends in very short sentences, and what I’ve overheard is talk that is remarkably uninspiring (“Yeah, just got out of English, I’m walking down the hall. Where are you?”) And while I do have students who work quite hard on their courses, I also have a lot who come to class with no preparation done, expect all excuses to be honored, and view any grade less than A as a failure on my part. I would imagine these latter students would support any law that might make their college lives a little easier.

But I’m not sure easier would be better. As my college theater director used to say, “Only after you’ve done the hard work do you start to have a good time.” For my students’ sake, maybe we ought to be lobbying for laws that would make some aspects of college life a little harder.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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