Will Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review, explains why writing instruction in the U.S. has failed: we dare not make it hard. This pillowed approach comes not from novice teachers, but from the NCTE itself.
Writing has “historically and inexorably been linked to testing,” says the NCTE. Moreover, it has been “associated with unpleasantness–with unsatisfying work and episodes of despair–and thus evoked a good deal of ambivalence.”
Fitzhugh takes us to the consequences of this strange historical analysis:
So, how does NCTE propose to free writing from its unhappy association with testing, episodes of despair, and so on? By encouraging students to do what they are doing already: texting, twitting, emailing, sending notes, sending photos, and the like-only this time it will be part of the high school “writing” curriculum. In other words, instead of NCTE encouraging educators to lift kids out of the crib, it wants them to jump in with them.
What happens when teachers encourage kids to just keep on doing what they’re already doing? They don’t learn how to write about anything. Lucy Calkins told Fitzhugh once, “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” But what happens when you teach writing without “getting into content”?
For one, students don’t write about the topic at hand, even if they have one. On a NAEP test, students were asked to write a brief review of a book worth preserving. of Fitzhugh cites part of a student’s review of Hermann Hesse’s Demian :
High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.
I get it! I could write about Paradise Lost:
Life is full of trial and error. Sometimes we make big mistakes, but most of the time we make little ones. We should always remember that mistakes are surmountable–even when we make someone mad or fail a test. No matter how embarrassed we are, we can laugh at ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and move on.
Very pleasant and very sad.
For another excellent piece by Will Fitzhugh, see “Critical Likability.”