Last year, I read an article that has stuck with me ever since. It was a discussion of the way we teach humanities, a subject dear to my heart after spending so much time thinking about this in college and graduate school. The thesis was that there are two parts to good humanities instruction. First, take something complicated and make it simple, like stripping Hamlet down to purely plot points, ignoring the poetry, psychology, and historical context. Second, take that simple thing and make it complicated; ask questions, find contradictions, and hold ambiguity. The critique in this article is that we have done an excellent job executing the first part, but we’ve forgotten to finish the task. The same is true of grammar.
Teaching children not to start sentences with “and” can help them avoid incomplete sentences and ideas in their early writing. But once they’ve mastered that, we have to reintroduce nuance (see what I did there?). Good writing doesn’t happen by simply following the rulebook. As an editor, I spend a lot of time thinking about these things. I spend a lot of time researching how to capitalize “Fall Ball” for my baseball player’s essay, and whether exoatmospheric is a word (it is) for my aspiring aerospace engineer. I am constantly honing my ability to ask the questions that will help a student write a clearer, more impactful essay that expresses the truest semblance of who they are as a person. And in order to do that, sometimes you have to start a sentence with “and.”
I thought about changing the sentence on my website, so that parents and students who’ve been taught this rule wouldn’t take me less seriously as an editor and writer. But I’ve never been one to shy away from the nuanced discussion in favor of the more straightforward rule. Maybe you don’t want to read 500 words about why it’s okay to start a sentence with “and,” or end a sentence with a preposition, or (gasp!) split your infinitives. But I do, which is why I’m the one who edits college essays for a living.