My former English professor and mentor

The guy is still kicking butt and taking names! (I accidentally published this before I finished the draft, and the only way I knew it was that I saw a link to this article on Phillipe's blog Baha'i Thought ! Good looking out, my brotha!) The following passage is from an article that appeared on

Marc Bertonasco, a CSUS emeritus professor and co- author of "Prose Style," a popular college writing text, also sees "The Elements of Style" as too restrictive.

"Oh, it had influence on me, no question. It was the pioneer in what is unofficially called the new style – clear, straightforward writing aiming at efficiency. It's a reaction to bureaucratese," he said.

"But I'm a classical rhetorician, and my position is this: No style is better than any other."

I had to chuckle at the last quote. If that's true, Professor Bertonasco has mellowed considerably over the years. I remember sitting in the classroom and watching a man so passionate about style and rhetoric as demonstrated by Aristotle (who seemed to be his favorite), Euripides, Marcus Aurelius, Socrates and countless others that he would sledgehammer his desk as he talked, which was a startling demonstration of power and strength for a man with such a slight build. This, of course, caused most of my classmates to leap up in their chairs with alarm, which made me lapse into near-hysterical fits of laughter(I have referred to my inner stinker/trickster characteristic on this blog). I spent most of the class with my head buried in the crook of my arm, trying to suppress the surges of hilarity. Oh, how I miss those days! Boredom dared not enter the classroom of Marc Bertonasco!

My impression(and I very well could be wrong) was that Professor Bertonasco had a hierarchical view of the English literary canon--the classical rhetoricians, dramatists and poets (the Greeks and the Romans,who, in his opinion, represented the pinnacle of literary achievement); the Metaphysical Poets (especially John Donne); the Biblical scholars such as St. Augustine, St. Barnaba, Martin Luther; the Renaissance writers like Dante', Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Petrarch (who I referred to in whispers as "Pet Rock"), and Cervantes; some of the writers of the British Romantic era, followed by a sprinkling of American writers who have been considered "great" by the English literary canon(Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the like). He did surprise me a few times by expressing admiration for a few contemporary popular American writers such as Stephen King. His reasoning was that writers like King are masterful with vivid descriptions of scene and character capture the readers' attention from the first sentence to the last, thereby earning academic consideration irrespective of popular appeal.

What this meant to me as a student was that I benefited from his extensive storehouse of literary knowledge because he presented the information in a demonstrative, lively, engaging style, and I was able to appreciate the collective works of a bunch of "dead white guys" (my own nickname for writers the professor discussed in his classes) in a way that helped me retain the information. If I had to take those required classes from one of those stiff, erudite traditional professors who deliver their lectures in a eye-glazing monotone, I would have slept through the classes. And my grades would have reflected my slumped over position in class.

Unfortunately, I did nod off for more than a few times, in spite of all of myEnglish professors' compelling lectures. That was due to my progressively damaging addiction to flour and sugar products, which caused my blood sugar spike up high then crash a half hour later. When that happened, no amount of thundering from the front of the classroom would keep me awake. I know this is a digression from the topic at hand, one that I have covered extensively in previous blogs (and will expand upon further in my new blog on BerthaButtNoMore ), but I hope this explains how those products interrupt and diminish the learning process.

Keep in mind that prior to enrolling in Professor Bertonasco's classes, I was not very keen on taking classes in what I considered to be the condescendingly patriarchal and covertly racist literary canon (Hint: I admired the Black Panthers while I was still in puberty, and I had read The Female Eunuch and The Autobiography of Malcolm X by the time I was thirteen.) But he didn't really change my view; he made it possible for me to put aside my bias for the time being and simply LEARN. I needed to get my degree, and in order to do that, I had to absorb the information and demonstrate that I had retained the knowledge and the skills expected of a student matriculating from the undergraduate program in English. Professor Bertonasco, along with professors Lucien Augosta, David Bell, Richard Bankowsky, Olivia Castellano, Kathryn Hohlwein, Mary Mackey, Charles Moore, Chauncey Ridley,Dennis Schmitz and William Dorman from the Journalism department have changed my life by encouraging me to be a much better writer, an attentive reader and a critical thinker. (Forgive the colloquial and ungrammatical usage, but I gots to give props to the profs!) Most, or perhaps all are professors emeriti now, but they have all contributed in a very profound way to my education.

This is not an insignificant part of my life. The Baha'i Faith emphasizes that education should compulsory for EVERYONE living on this planet, and it is an absolute necessity for the intellectual, material and most of all, spiritual advancement of humanity:

What, then, is the mission of the divine Prophets? Their mission is the education and advancement of the world of humanity. They are the real Teachers and Educators, the universal Instructors of mankind. If we wish to discover whether any one of these great Souls or Messengers was in reality a Prophet of God, we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history, and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an Educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a Prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, for such miracles and statements may be denied and refused by those who hear them. The deeds of Moses are conclusive evidences of His Prophethood. If a man be fair, unbiased and willing to investigate reality, he will undoubtedly testify to the fact that Moses was, verily, a man of God and a great Personage.

(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 364)

At the heart of the Bahá'í perspective on popular participation in development is an equally challenging conception of the nature and purpose of human existence. In the Bahá'í view, man is neither a fallen creature nor merely the product of socio-economic forces. The rational soul, in the Bahá'í view, is a phenomenon with limitless potentialities: intellectual, spiritual, emotional and moral. Service to humanity is among the primary influences unlocking individual capacity.

Within this context, the Bahá'í International Community views popular participation as essential to development and to the full realization of all human rights. We believe that education in the principle of service to humanity will arouse and maintain motivation which, coupled with the acquisition of practical skills and technology, will open as yet unimagined possibilities for development within and among nations. In particular, educational programmes at the grass-roots level can help young people develop personal confidence and acquire the necessary skills for contributing to the development process in their own communities.

Moreover, the Bahá'í International Community believes that it is especially important to promote participation among groups which have traditionally been oppressed or neglected, such as indigenous peoples and women, so that they can assume their legitimate role in making decisions about development which directly affect them.

The active involvement of women, called for under article 8 of the Declaration on the Right to Development, is crucial to the development process. In most societies, women have been relegated to an inferior role in the social order, although they bear the brunt of the day-to-day work. Women should be not only allowed, but encouraged to play a prominent role in formulating solutions to the problems facing their communities. Development programmes must, therefore, have as their aim the improvement of the status of women.

Fostering a genuine belief in the oneness of humanity, an awareness of global interdependence, and a moral commitment to service, in both developing and developed countries, is indispensable to the process of development. On the one hand, it creates a sense of self-esteem and self-reliance in peoples who have been oppressed. On the other, it exposes and counteracts exploitative and unjust economic practices in those societies which perpetrate them, thus restoring their integrity and allowing them to meet their international obligations more appropriately.

(Baha'i International Community, 1989 Feb 09, Right to Development)

It is with sincere indebtedness that I thank all of my former professors for contributing to my intellectual and spiritual advancement.

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