Teaching: Look, Ma, I'm Writin'!

"The rotter school teacher is Mr. Holbrook," wrote the daring student. "He is a tramp. He needs a wash and a haircut and a new shirt and he has a big head and beady eyes." The description delighted English Teacher David Holbrook. Only a few months before, the "bottom-stream" British schoolboy of 14 was barely articulate. Now, flaunting a new-found power with words, he groped toward understanding the mystery that transforms murky thoughts into vivid language.

A fellow of King's College, Cambridge, Holbrook, 41, is a teacher who comes straight to the point that "the roots of true literacy are in...

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