Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Kids today aren’t just disinterested in writing—they are downright terrified of it.
Blame video games. Blame the Internet. Blame cell phones. Blame any of the high-tech toys that too many responsibility-shirking adults are so quick to use as a scapegoat. But, the way I see it, distractions like these are only as strong as the internal motivation to avoid another task. So what is it? Why is “writing,”—an activity that so many, historically, have used as a vehicle of rebellion, self-expression, and liberation, not more attractive to angsty, contrary teenagers?
What I saw in my classroom this week has led me to my own hypothesis. And, at the risk of sounding like a turncoat, I say: the real onus is on teachers.
“Miss Carey?” One overachiever asked, “Will you take points off our writing if we have more than 8 sentences in a paragraph—or less than six?”
No, honey, Mrs. So-and-So probably told you that because that’s the way the state testing Gestapo is going to decide how worthy you and your teacher are on the MCAS this spring.
“Miss Carey? What do you mean good poetry doesn’t have to rhyme? Are you saying that Jack Prelutsky isn’t the greatest poet who ever lived?”
Yes, dear. That is what I’m saying. If you were told otherwise in the past, it’s because your teacher was as afraid of poetry as you are.
“Miss Carey? Will you make us write as a punishment if we do something bad in class?”
No, son. I also won’t bludgeon you with a calculator and then try to make you a better mathematician.
It goes on. The truth is, I haven’t done much at all in the way of actual writing instruction so much as I have trying to reprogram 60 brains and convincing them that, despite what has been instilled in them with all the fire and brimstone of a Catholic upbringing, writing is not just another set of rules and regulations cast upon them by generations of old-dog teachers who refuse to learn new tricks. So far, it seems to be working, but it’s going to be a long road.
I’ll let you know how it goes.