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Retiring BYU English Professor Reflects On What It Takes To Inspire Great Writing

Kristine Hansen is retiritng after 30 years teaching at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Kristine Hansen is finishing her 30th and final year teachingin the English Department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. While she’s received teaching awards and been featured in numerous publications, for her it’s always been about helping students write better.

To do that, Hansen has developed a very involved editing process. She often fills the margins of her student’s papers with thoughtful feedback and encouraging notes, showing them that she’s really read every word. We began our conversation at KUER studios discussing why she is willing put in that much effort. Here are the highlights:


Hansen: I do find that it takes a time commitment. I have to, in a sense, fall in love with my students. I always make it a point to get to know them at the beginning of class and once I get to know them I find it’s really a labor of love.


Q: What do you hope students get out of this editing process?


Hansen: What I want them to see is that unless they’re actively engaging in the learning process they’re probably not getting the most out of the course. I feel that if I can hand back writing quickly and I can show that I engaged in dialogue with what they’ve written that their level of interest will rise. I’m trying to push them to think more clearly and to read more carefully.


Q: In an age of Facebook rants, click bait and even fake news, what role does good writing play?


Hansen: We need to teach some basic rhetorical principles. A big one is the hasty generalization. On the basis of one observation or one incident or one bit of data someone will leap to a large conclusion. Another one is the post hoc fallacy. One thing happens after another thing and some people will assume that because B happened after A that A caused B. You have to be careful about imputing causation just because of sequence. I would like to see people be more aware of these and be more careful in their argumentation and also more civil.


Q: How does being a good reader affect someone’s writing?


Hansen: Reading and writing go together. I’ve learned that if people don’t actually talk or write about what they’re reading then they’re not processing it at the deep level I would like them to. Students will often say, “Oh yeah, I read that.” But if they haven’t really thought about it and been forced to think about it through writing or speech they’ve probably just passed their eyes over it. I think a lot of people do that with the newspaper.


Q: You taught at a school known for business and law. A lot of people who go to BYU come with a very pragmatic approach to their career. With your students pursuing something like marketing or dentistry, what role did you think good writing played in their future?


Hansen: I don’t have any apologies to make for teaching in liberal arts because I’ve heard a lot of owners of companies say they would rather hire a liberal arts graduate and teach them what they need to know about business then hire a business graduate and teach them about reading, thinking, and analyzing. All the research shows that the most important skills an executive in any organization needs is the ability to communicate. So, someone who has honed that skill already as a liberal arts major will do very very well.


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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