Alumni Stories

"Stegner's class"

By Bailey Jones

Almost a quarter-century has passed since they made me graduate from ISS, and yet I still have more memories of those four years than some people do of their entire childhoods. There is no one memory that stands apart from the others, but there is one that illustrates how lucky we are to have been students at Indian Springs.

I think that it was officially called "Expository Writing," but we just called it "Stegner's class." To an outsider, it sounded like a nightmare: write a paper a week on an assigned topic, and then sit in agony as each and every error of style and grammar was dissected and corrected in front of the class, without the joy of anonymity.

Every week, for the entire sophomore year, we did the same thing. Even then, knowing that sooner or later the spotlight was going to find me, I didn't hate it. I was one of the more infrequent visitors to the Error Sheet, though more than once I heard Mr. Stegner say "So, Jones, just what were you thinking about when you wrote that horrid sentence? Haven't you learned the difference between 'its' and 'it's' yet?" And every week, whether my paper received a check, a check-minus, or even a check-plus, Mr. Stegner made the same notation at the top of the page: "See Fred's paper." Because the immortal and legendary Fred Key, he of the collapsible, silent typewriter, never made a mistake. Ever.

So we tried to be like Fred, and always fell short of that goal. Some fell way short, and so there was never a shortage of examples for that week's Error Sheet. Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, improper word usage, misplaced apostrophes. they were all there, every week. And every week, I never had the perfect paper. Error-free, maybe, but never up to Fred Key's standard. Never a check-plus-plus. As a senior, I took Mr. Stegner's elective class all three trimesters, seeking a check-plus-plus. But it never came, and eventually I had to leave, and go to college.

In college, I was in Liberal Arts, and was often the subject of scorn because I didn't have to take the hard English courses that my friends in Business were tortured and punished by. And the thing they dreaded most was the "Proficiency Exam." Halfway through the course, they had to take this horrible Proficiency Exam, and pass it; failing the test meant dropping the class. And no one ever passed it on the first attempt. Ever.

I heard so much moaning and groaning about this unpassable test, and yet I never got to see a copy of it. "It can't be that bad," I said. "Get a copy and let me see what the fuss is about." "You don't want to know," they would say. "Just be thankful that you don't ever have to face the Proficiency Exam."

Then, one day, someone called my bluff, and presented me with a copy of the Practice Proficiency Exam. I could almost smell the smugness reeking from my friends; they were about to see my boastful talk blow up in my face, and they were loving it.

I looked at the exam; it consisted of 50 or so sentences that contained errors in style and grammar. All the student had to do was circle the error, and correct it. "This is nothing more than an Error Sheet," I said. "I did one of these a week in tenth grade. And then I did one a week as a senior, just for fun."

Thanks, Mr. Stegner. Check-plus-plus.

Bailey Jones '79