Yet another blow in the search for the next Hemingway

Yesterday it was announced that the College Board would drop the essay requirement for the SAT college entrance test. This along with free access to pre-test preparation material is hailed by many as a good thing, the change that will level the playing field for low-income and disadvantaged students. I view it as subversive tactic to rid American schools of writing in lue of irrelevant facts, figures and Common Core nonsense. After all David Coleman, the man behind the Common Core standards, is also the president of College Board.

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 physical abode, was little different story. Well actually, we didn’t have one – at least in the traditional sense. 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.

Writing

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 in any other venture that involves communicating – and that’s most everything. 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 talk – which all too 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 to reflect on a conversation you had with someone 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 … NOOOOO! 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 … NOOOOO! 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-five years old. I didn’t really start writing until five 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 200 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-fifty. Imagine the effect it would have on the formative brains of teenagers!

But … NOOOOO! 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  someone 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 the age of ubiquitous technology and social connectivity where’s so much information to devour and write about, 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. My 25-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 a desire 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 they graduate. The content can be personal or it can be incorporated with class material. Students can determine relevance on their own terms – not just on the teacher’s. In other words … they would be thinking.

I believe the purpose of school is prepare a student of 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 is going to keep rising until we’re all dead and gone.

And writing is the vehicle that can deliver that skill.

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Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

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3 thoughts on “Yet another blow in the search for the next Hemingway

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I talk about this in my book “She Taught Herself At Home” that describes my own daughter’s experience at teaching *herself* from 8th grade through high school and into college — and her ability to write (honed over the years) played a big part in that achievement. p.s. Manhattan Beach has a good vibe… though I’m guessing it’s different today from then.. you know.. upscale? ;-)

  2. Thank you for caring so much about writing. I just read an article about it that supports your last paragraph. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101176249

    I’m glad someone else realizes that practice is necessary for competency. This used to be a common standard regarding writing. More emphasis was put on it in elementary school, and in every advancement in life from middle school to college to corporate. The average executive assistant was a writing genie that made the boss look incredible.

    The naysayers are loud and prevalent. Every time I read something like your post, I feel that much better about language.

  3. “Being a good writer give a student a ‘leg-up’ in not just English class but in any other venture that involves communicating –and that’s most everything.”

    And in this digital world, being a good/persistent writer can bring one financial benefits (i.e. a job) through independent publishing (via Amazon, Createspace, etc.).

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