I was reading a post on Language Log about David Brooks' penchant for, shall we say, elaboration in his writing and public speaking. This story reminds me of an incident when I was a freshman engineering student taking my first college English class. As an exercise we had to write a paragraph about "the best restaurant I ever ate at." The professor read one student's paragraph (not mine!) to the class. It began something like, "I don't remember the name of the best restaurant I ever ate at, but it was in New Orleans…" She stopped and said to us that the writer had just blown his whole message, because if he couldn't remember the name of the restaurant how good could it be, really? Then she gave us the advice that still shocks me today: "In this class, if you don't remember a fact or don't have a ready example, make it up! I won't go to New Orleans to check the restaurant!"
So here was a college professor advising her students to lie in their papers. Granted, she was more interested in the quality and style of the writing than in accuracy, which I suppose is appropriate for a freshman English class at an engineering college (people say us engineers don't right so good). But still.
I wonder if the message sometimes gets muddled and students come away with the idea that it's OK to make it up outside of class as well.
Did David Brooks have similar advice when he was younger, or does it just come naturally to him?
Note 1: Above quotes are from memory and may not be totally accurate. But they're close.
Note 2: This post is a slightly edited version of my comments on the Language Log blog.