In his book "Jesus, Interrupted," Bart D. Ehrman writes of going off to seminary, where he learns, much to his dismay, that the Bible does contain mistakes and inconsistencies. He says that intense study of the Bible make it impossible to ignore the inconsistencies. The mistakes and inconsistency aren't damning, he says, and they don't "prove the Bible wrong," but they're there. Actually, I do remember going to school, repeating the things my dad was learning in seminary, and getting in trouble.
Anyway, Ehrman remarks on the fact that in seminary, students "...are taught critical approaches to Scripture, they learn about the discrepancies and contradictions, they discover all sorts of historical errors and mistakes... yet when they enter church ministry, they appear to put it back on the shelf." How weird to know that most ministers know these things, yet don't tell.
Writing is sort of the same way. You go through school, you learn crazy arbitrary rules about prepositions, you learn a million adverbs and adjectives, you learn the five paragraph essay and the eleven sentence paragraph, and all of a sudden you show up in Advanced Expository Writing and Sister Cynthia says, "oh by the way, those rules you learned are dumb and arbitrary. There's no reason you should have to follow them." Professors are ordering you to strip out all the fancy adjectives and adverbs you've been cramming in to papers for so long, and Bam! Five paragraph essays are crap." But then, you go back into the world. The sweet collegiate freedom to dangle prepositions in the wind is gone, and no English major is going to use words like "ain't" and "gonna" in a cover letter. If she wants a job, that is.
And that's what makes me laugh about all the books on English language and usage that I read. All the authors decry the old rules, while never daring to break the rules themselves. Do you suppose these guys use leet in intra-office e-mails? Or tell their students they ain't gonna graduate?
If the rules are so stupid, why do we keep following them?