My son tanked on the writing section of his SATs. I had offered to help him prepare before he took the test but he emphatically told me (many times, in fact) “mom, I’m fine.”
And it makes me sick.
Because my son is a gifted writer. He shows good organization, solid structure, and terrific use of vocabulary. He even has a strong and unique voice in his writing. Where he messed up was that he didn’t write a 5 paragraph essay.
That’s right. The graders of his essay didn’t see that he had set up a thesis with 3 arguments in paragraph 1. They didn’t see the next 3 paragraphs covering each of his arguments and they most certainly did not see his thesis summarized and restated in his final paragraph.
Instead what they saw was a more-than-5 paragraph essay that didn’t follow the rules. They didn’t care about originality, they only wanted to see that he conformed.
He was supposed to follow the rules.
And that, in a nutshell, is what modern day writing has become.
I understand that there have to be metrics, really I do, I get it. But I also find it disheartening to consider that our next generation of writers will think that in order to be a good writer, you’ll need to write to the formula. “Twilight” worked? Let’s do the exact same thing and write an adult version and call it umm, “Shades of Grey.”
Where will the creativity come from if we’re taught to write to the structure and not to a theme or one’s heart? Where will we find the “Call me Ishmael” beginnings, the complicated and entwined stories, if we are taught to lay out all of our cards in the first page. How on earth can my son learn to continue a plot, to flesh out a character, if he is required to write in a way that invites no creativity and no mystery to the art.
The short answer is that he can’t learn that, not from the school system as it currently is, anyway, where students are being taught not to think but to take tests well. In order to get a proper literary education my son is going to have to read, be involved in discussions about books, and he’s going to have to practice his writing craft. Fortunately, that’s the kind of activity that is constantly going on in our house. It’s just not unusual to hear a plot summarized while broccoli is being passed at the dinner table.
My son will eventually learn how to be a good writer, I sense he will have a few exciting challenges to recount down the road. He wants to explore, travel, and have adventures – all great stuff of which stories are built. But for now, that will have to wait until we finish this class on how to write using a formulaic structure so that he can score better on a test.
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).
Guess what? The first class starts this morning.
And speaking of dumb, I fixed the title, thanks.
Photo credit: photosteve 101