Journal of Secondary Alternate Education

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Column: Lukiv's "Place" for Educators to Think About Teaching 

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"THOSE GYZE IN THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT" (published previously by Students on the Net [Singapore, 2000])

Dan Lukiv

Professor Harlow, long-time head of the creative writing department at the University of British Columbia, and author of the critically-acclaimed novel Scann (McClelland & Stewart, 1972),1 made a comment to me in 1977 that helps me categorise Gagne, Briggs, and Wagner's Principles of Instructional Designand Wassermann's "How I Taught Myself to Teach." Harlow said, "Dan, those gyze in the English department understand language. They can dissect a sentence and explain all the grammar. I can't do that very well. But I know how to write."

He didn't refer to his standing as a foremost Canadian novelist who had mastered the art of writing fiction. He was too humble for that, and obviously he knew lots about grammar (or, at least, enough). For me his comment places English grammar alongside the principles of instructional design--namely, with its (bear with me for this paragraph) immediate and long-range planning, systems approach, learning conditions, contiguity, repetition, reinforcement, previously learned capabilities, sensory registers, short-term memory, selective perception, feature perception, working memory, response generator, executive control, expectancies, cognitive strategies, events of instruction, memory contents, multiple aims, target objectives, enabling objectives, sequences of instruction, characteristics of learners, internal conditions, criterion-referenced measurement, objective referenced assessment, instructional delivery system, and its maaaany other terms (Gagne, Briggs, & Wagner, 1992).

In addition, for me, Harlow's comment about "those gyze in the English department...[etc.]" places the art of writing alongside the art of teaching as related by Wassermann: "[The] Teacher as Artist....[helps the] learner increase[ ] his autonomy, his self-initiative, his confidence in himself and consequently his ability to take risks[, which reminds me about The Writer as Artist]. He therefore grows in his ability to teach himself" (p. 177).

If I wanted to learn more about the "grammar" of teaching, I'd have lots of aesthetically-defunct terms to chew my cud on in the book Principles of Instructional Design: "The executive control structure governs the use of cognitive strategies, which may determine how information is encoded when it enters long-term memory, or how the process of retrieval is carried out, among other things" (p. 10). Good readin'--aye? But if I wanted to learn about the art of teaching, I'd have lots of stimulating information to consider in Wassermann's article: "[The] Teacher as Artist....communicates a genuine prizing and valuing of the student....[He] enables the learner to move to higher positions on the continuum of personal autonomy....He is considerate of the feelings of students and communicates genuine warmth and regard for them....The student comes away from [class] inspired, knowing more, being more interested, and feeling good" (pp. 177-181).

Yes! I would like to focus on the art of teaching as Professor Harlow focused on the art of writing fiction. That means I'll likely leave the principles of instructional design to education professors as he left grammar to English ones--although obviously I need to know something about such principles as he knew something about grammar.


Gagne, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wagner, W. W. (1992). Introduction. Principles of instructional design (pp. 3-19). Toronto, ON: Harcourt Brace Jovanich College.

Harlow, R. (1972). Scann. Queen Charlotte Islands: Sono Nis Press.

Ross, M. L. (1998). The northern boundary. In G. Haslam, J. G. Taylor, T. J. Lyon, W. T. Pilkington, J. Maquire, & G. F. Day (Eds.), A literary history of the American west: Part two: Settled in: Many lands. Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press. Retrieved April 17, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

Wassermann, S. (1987). How I taught myself how to teach. In C. R. Christensen (Ed.), Teaching and the case method (pp. 175-183). Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Business School.


1. "Robert Harlow's Scann (1972) is an eccentric but ambitious effort by its title character to chronicle his intermountain town on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary" (Ross, 1998, paragraph 13).

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