When my daughter was in high school, our living situation was not ideal. Now we lived in a great area, Manhattan Beach, California. We had the beach, the weather, crime was virtually nonexistent and the neighborhoods were clean and friendly.
Our personal abode, was little different story. Well actually, we didn’t have one. We had motel rooms and tent, a very good tent … but a tent none-the-less. However, we made it though and I believe we’re both better off because of our precarious living situation those years.
Alex, my daughter, had one thing she could always fall back on. Alex wrote. Writing was her own personal therapy. She wrote about the good times … and she wrote about, well – the not so good times.
But writing was more than therapy for Alex. It was a source of pride. She writes well, very well – and she knows it. Being a good writer give a student a “leg-up” in not just English class but any other class that involves communicating – which is pretty much every other one of them. And not being able to write effectively can set an otherwise good student back a step.
Writing enables you to form thoughts in a way that requires you to think before you just spout – which all to often happens in discussion. This thought process fine-tunes articulation. By altering just one word, meaning can take on a whole different twist. From this thoughtful articulation, synaptic connections are built. And we all know we need more synaptic connections.
Writing also has an archiving function. You can always go back and read what you wrote a month ago, or year ago and reflect. You can build on past ideas, thoughts and revelations. It’s not so easy reflect on a conversation you had with your best friend six months ago. Chances are it’s gone the way of burnt out memory cells.
You would think our schools would make it a point to incorporate writing into the curriculum wherever they could. Don’t sequester it to English class. Every class, every subject requires communication, and writing is high level communication. And every class and every subject need our students to further develop their abstract thinking abilities. And that’s where writing comes in … it’s perfect for that.
Well that’s what you’d think. But … NOOOOOO! That just makes too much sense. Here’s a technique that would systematically improve our student’s prospects now and when they leave school. But … NOOOOOOO! We can’t do that – we have standardized tests, and we have our “fill in the right oval or be damned” philosophy. After all we have to keep up with Jones (oh! I mean the Chinese).
I’m fifty-three years old. I didn’t really start writing until two years ago when I started this blog. Before then I didn’t write. I don’t think I wrote 5000 words total in my life. I didn’t write in high school and I didn’t in college. But I didn’t need to. Because even back even we had the ovals – and I knew how to play the oval game.
But I’ve found out something over these last two years and 150 blog posts. Even being “old,” I’m thinking better. My comprehension of issues is better. My articulation of these issues is better. And the breadth of my understanding on diverse subjects, subjects I’ve had little exposure to – is better. And this is happening now at age fifty-three. Imagine the effect it would have on the formative brains of teenagers!
But … NOOOOOO! Writing proficiency is too subjective. How are the teachers going to grade writing? Where’s time for them to go through all those words? “Just give me multiple choice – and give me my ovals.“
Now I see the point in periodic testing. If you don’t test students on progress, how are you going to know if one is following behind to the “point of no return.” But does that mean we have to kick writing to the curb because it involves more effort and can’t be tested with ovals?
Our public education situation in the United States is unfortunate at best and more accurately, pathetic. This vaulted institution which reigned king has dropped precariously in world comparisons. And this free fall shows no sign of letting up.
Writing would help … help a lot. But we have no time or no patience for writing in our schools. We have ovals. And in this age of ubiquitous technology and interconnectivity, this situation is ironic.
The internet 2.0 is based on communication – back and forth. I say something, you respond … and so on. Constructive dialogue using writing is what it’s made for. Some would say term papers are writing. I suppose, in the broadest interpretation of the word. But outside of a grade and a few notes in the margins (mainly grammar corrections), there’s no dialogue.
Personally I write about things that interest me. While I’m twice as old as the average college student and three times that of someone in high school, I don’t consider myself a better, or worse writer – just one with more real world context. In fact my 22-year-old daughter writes better than I do. But what if writing could be that bridge that connects school to the real world for these students? What if writing made all those irrelevant “facts” relevant? And what if writing provided that “spark” that ignited an interest in school … and a want to be there, and to learn when they’re there.
They way we can do this is through blogs, blogs that students write. I’m a firm believer in students creating a blog that can travel with them, even after school years down the road. The content can be personal or it can be incorporated with class material. Students can determine relevancy on their own terms – not just on the teachers. In other words – they would be thinking.
I believe the purpose of school is prepare a student to nurture a life-long habit of learning, a yearning, an addiction. You can learn a trade or a profession. But what happens if that trade changes, or worse yet – becomes obsolete and goes away.
The skill of learning prepares one to adapt to the changes that loom as inevitable as the rising of the morning sun. And the sun going to keep rising until we’re all dead and gone.
Writing is the vehicle that can deliver that skill.
Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg