New ideas for teaching old English

by Staff

Andrew Huse / Assistant Photo Editor

The English language can sometimes be shallow.Try studying Latin; or try an Eastern language such as Japanese or Korean. English can use dozens of words to try and explain one foreign idea.Paul Minifee, Ph.D, a rhetoric and writing studies professor at San Diego State, learned this a few years ago while teaching in South Korea. He was playing tennis with some colleagues, having a great time. After the match the colleagues, though well-versed in English, struggled to find the words to describe the Korean ideal, “jeung” that they felt for him.”One of them told me, ‘Mr. Paul, we feel something for you, but we don’t know the English word for it. It’s a feeling like love, but not romantic love. It’s a feeling like family, but not blood. It’s a feeling like brother, but not family,'” said Minifee, who is in his second year at SDSU. “It took them a couple of paragraphs to explain this beautiful concept. If you had to be reductive, it is a psychic connection. It’s something you can’t put your finger on, but you feel deeply connected to this other person.”The experience prompted Minifee to encourage his students to write in the same way. He tells students to think about the minimal number of words in a haiku and the power of each. Fluff and extra words only detract from the real message.It was a feeling similar to “jeung” that led Minifee to South Korea after completing his undergraduate work at the University of Texas. He wanted to connect with his Korean grandmother, who passed away before he was born.Minifee taught for three years at the University of Notre Dame before coming to SDSU, helping priests make their homilies more appealing. While there, he noticed an immediate reaction. The owner of a furniture store in South Bend, Ind. (Notre Dame’s location) saw Minifee’s Texas license plate and wondered why he was so far from home.”(I told her that) I’m here to work with the priests and help them improve their sermons,” Minifee said. “Her eyes just lit up and she grabbed me by the collar and just hugged me.”While Minifee loved being at Notre Dame, the native Texan just got too cold. He had the opportunity to work at other schools such as Oklahoma, Tennessee and USC, but SDSU felt like the best fit. It had the right blend of warm weather, a solid rhetoric program and friendly people.Even though he’s more than 1,000 miles away from the Lone Star State, he still has a strong connection to his Texas roots. Former ombudsman D.A. Graham, still a good friend of Minifee’s, said the new professor looked all over the place for a burnt orange SDSU sweatshirt when he first got here.”He goes beyond the beyond and he opens up areas to students that they’ve never thought about before,” said Graham, who interviewed Minifee for the job. “Paul pushes students to go beyond their boundaries and he reminds me of a young preacher. He is a young Frederick Douglass ? and I think he has all of the acumen to be a great professor here.”