Are we taught how to write?

There’s a growing belief that kids today aren’t being taught how to write properly. Now, I won’t try to pretend that I know much of anything of what’s going on in primary schools anymore. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in high school, even longer since I’ve been in middle or grade school, so I don’t really know what’s going on in the primary education system anymore.

At least, not beyond what I read online, and we all know how reliable that is.

What I do know is that parents seem to be really up in arms about the “common core” standards for math and science. People are also still caught up in the “do we teach evolution or creation in classrooms” debate. That’s not something I’m going to touch with a ten foot pole.

But I haven’t heard a whole lot about how people feel about English courses in the core curriculum.

Essentially, I know things I’ve known since I was in school:

The arts are exceptionally undervalued.
It’s not just colleges and universities around the country that are feeling a lot of financial pain in their arts departments. The K-12 school system is, too. Of course, this depends greatly on where you’re going to school, how your school ranks in whatever weird system the government uses to decide how much money to give it, and whether or not your school raises any of its own funds for these kinds of programs. Regardless, I know that drama programs, creative writing programs, and arts programs are definitely getting less money than they deserve and a lot of emphasis goes into how important math and science are for growing minds. Unfortunately, this ignores how important the arts are for those same young brains.

Writing education is increasingly “formal.”
The education that goes into writing is extremely formalized. You’re basically taught how to write essays and papers, which use academic language, syntax, and structure. This is fine and dandy for most of what you’ll be doing in your life, but again, it totally ignores the creative element to writing. Have you ever heard anyone say that if you go to Mexico and speak the Spanish you were taught in class that people are going to look at you funny? That’s because you’re taught a very formal version of the language, one that native speakers will catch onto right away because of how much it lacks personality. If you try to write books the same way you’re taught to write for classes, you’ll have a really formalized novel.

We’re “required” to write but not necessarily taught how to write.
I saw this quite a bit in college. Most of my courses, even the courses that weren’t writing or literature related, maintained some kind of writing requirement. We had to have papers for pretty much everything. The thought behind this is that requiring students to write for any class they’re in is going to teach them how to write better, but the logic is flawed because many of the professors reading those papers weren’t professors who were really prepared to grade writing. Additionally, they usually care more about the content than the quality of the writing (which makes sense, since a biology professor is there to teach you about biology, not how to properly use commas). Essentially, I saw a lot of students turn in badly written papers and get great grades because they understood the content. That’s awesome for them, but it didn’t teach them a damn thing about being a better writer.

There are also the debates that younger generations’ reliance on technology–through the internet and their phones–has begun to have negative effects on their ability to write. I’m not sure how true this one is, since being involved in communities online definitely helped sharpen my own abilities, but I think it depends on what exactly they’re doing online and whether or not the language they use is important to them.

Regardless, I may not really know everything that’s going on in the education space for writing, but I have to wonder–are we really teaching students how to become great writers, or are the students who want to become great writers teaching themselves?


Categories: Opinions and Rants, Writing

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