A discussion with my daughter the other day about how bad public schools are, as evidenced by how poorly most of the population writes, led to a discussion of sentence diagramming. My daughter and I are in that peculiar, geeky segment of the population that not only enjoyed diagramming in school but still likes to talk about it. I admitted to geeky already, ok?
We then proceeded to compare our experiences, and she humored me as I launched into a description of my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Adams. Charles Adams was a cool, middle-aged, black man who didn't hide his cultural blackness to fit into what for him must have been an overwhelmingly white world. It was 1971-72, and our school district was pretty well integrated. Even so, he was the only black teacher I have ever had, from grade school through college.
I learned a few years ago that he had died of a massive heart attack, and it made me very sad. Mr. Adams taught me how to write a decent sentence. I was an okay writer when I entered his class, but his emphasis on the fundamentals of grammar and sentence structure, which he illustrated by forcing us to diagram our sentences, dramatically improved my command of language. It is because of him that I was tracked into accelerated English in high school.
He clicked his heels as he moved around the chalk board and spoke in quick, punctuated sentences, with a rhythm to his speech that I can only describe as jazzy. I have a vague memory that he liked jazz music and couldn't stomach the pop sounds of the day. He wore a short afro and a mustache, with just a hint of a beard, which I like to think he grew out during the summers.
I suspect if I hadn't been at such an awkward, self-obsessed stage in my own development, I might have appreciated him more at the time. I wish I had more pronounced memories from that year, but I know I enjoyed his class a lot, and today, almost 40 years later, I still hold him in the highest regard, and I still love to diagram sentences. What a nice legacy.