I am a baby boomer whose earliest education took place in a Catholic grammar school. I learned the basics there: reading, writing, and arithmetic. But rather than tell you what I learned, I’d like to explain how I learned—particularly how I learned to write. See if it sounds familiar.

I had a teacher, Sister Mary Immaculate Conception. Like most teachers of her day, Sister demanded that her students learn all the rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar that govern the English language. With that jumble of rules balanced precariously in my mind (much of it slipping and crashing on my cerebrum’s floor), I was expected to write the perfect sentence—one that had all the words spelled right, all the grammar correct, and the penmanship ...

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