"Shun the Passive Voice"

"Shun the passive voice," he said, and by God we did.

So it was that Charles Phelps taught hundreds of Danbury students the meaning of character. So it was he helped them define themselves. You are your words. Your sentences declare your character.

Consider God's best line: "I am."

Consider yours: "I love you."

If you do something, you say so. You take responsibility with the active voice. If you say a thing has been done by somebody, you are ducking behind the couch to avoid responsibility.

Shun is a strong verb. It does not mean to ignore or to avoid but to consciously exclude. It is right to shun passivity, to shun anything that hides from the truth or talks around it. To shun is to judge, to determine something to be unacceptable or unworthy and to put it away from you consciously, actively, immediately.

We did what English teacher Charles Phelps told us to do because he was tough and he was good. He got to the heart of the lesson in a clean, clear way.

Charles Phelps respected himself and the outcome of his work as a teacher. He taught students to think clearly and to therefore express themselves clearly. More than that, though, he taught us to live with integrity, to be up front and plain, to hide nothing. He taught us to be clear and strong and to live by the rules so that if and when we break them we might do so effectively--in our living as well as in our writing.


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