In Defense of Writing
Posted on October 4, 2012
I heard something I didn’t like this week.
Kids — especially grade school kids — don’t like to write.
Howwwww is this possssibbbblllllle???? I loved to write when I was a little kid!!!!
Apparently, loving writing makes me weird. Math is more fun for children because they’re solving puzzles and playing with little plastic sets of ten and sometimes even Gummi Bears, if they’re lucky. Writing involves too much memorization (i.e. spelling words) and rules, and requires just too much work in general.
In kidspeak, writing is what they call borrring.
This revelation emerged as a general aside during a parent-teacher conference I had this week. It had nothing to do with my own kid. Although I do know that good writing requires work, as a writer I’ve never perceived that my job is boring. I love what I do and am prepared to beat someone up after school (you heard me) in the interests of defending my craft. So, filled with more than a hint of righteous indignation, I asked the teacher if there was any way I could help her show kids why writing is a good thing, an important thing, and even . . . (wait for it) a fun thing. Although I’m not sure if she’ll take me up on it, she said yes, she’d like me to come in after the first of the year. The good thing about this is that it gives me plenty of time to construct some pro-writing propaganda about how writing is the best thing in the world, ever, so there. I’m in this to win hearts and minds, after all.
Rebecca Wallace-Seagall wrote an impassioned defense of creative writing classes in schools, drawing from her experience as executive director of New York City’s Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that runs writing workshops for children aged 8 to 18. Wallace-Seagall’s piece is part of The Atlantic’s education series “Why American Students Can’t Write”. Over the next two years, public school students in 46 of 50 states will have a writing curriculum that favors clarity over self-expression and Wallace-Seagall believes that good writing in any genre requires logic and precision. She writes:
If young people are not learning to write while exploring personal narratives and short fiction, it is because we as educators need more training — or the specifics of the curriculum need more development. It is not because those forms of writing in themselves are of no use . . . Human beings yearn to share, reflect and understand each other, and they use these reflections to improve the state of things, both personal and public. If we want our students to have this kind of impact, we have to teach them how to express themselves with both precision and passion . . . where would we be as a nation if we graduate a nation of people who can write an academic paper on the Civil War but have no power to convey the human experience? If Frederick Douglass had stopped writing his narrative on slavery because he felt he could not be at once a lucid communicator and an expressive, emotional being, where would this world be?
Indeed, where would it be? I’m hoping I can do my part, in whatever little way, to help another generation care about words — how they feel on your tongue, how they look on the page and how they sound to your ears and heart when a little symphony spills from your pen.