Monday night I drove out to Forest Grove, a small farming community, to the university there to teach a workshop on editing to students in their publishing minor. I've done this twice before but this time there were only two students instead of the six I'd expected. But they were interested and there was lots to tell them.
I went through my outline with them about the kinds of editing that people do, the skills it takes, the work that's available. Then I got to the kinds of questions that my clients often have: what's the difference between a gerund and a participle, when do I use semicolons, how many kinds of sentence structures are there in English and am I using them correctly, why do you keep moving things around in my sentences? I include these questions in the presentation not only so they'll know the kinds of things they need to know but to find out what they know. Which is usually nothing much.
The real experience for me began when we spent the last half hour editing typical paragraphs from the work I do. These were all scholarly articles as the publishing program they're in is focused on the kinds of presses and journals that universities put out. As the two students worked through the paragraphs and shared their ideas, I could see the trap that they'd fallen into. "Make it sound like me." They skipped over the errors in the writing (nonstandard usages) and immediately began rewriting the sentences according to their own internal standards. They didn't know enough about the language to explain why they wanted to change things; they just had a feel for it. And they didn't want to hear that that's not good enough, that the client deserves an objective explanation, not an intuitive response.
I realized that I was 50 years older than these two girls but that at their age, I'd been just the same. Convinced to the point of defensiveness of my own point of view, always eager to be right. I talked about that a little with them but could quickly see they were too young yet to get it.