“Either to Please or To Educate”

When ever someone asks me who I would invite to a dinner party living or dead, I always think of the Salons of Paris (and then eventually the greater European area).  But let me be honest, the reason I sometimes read Salon is that Megan Mayhew Bergman writes a column for Salon and I respect am obsessed with her so much that I read Salon as tribute.  So, recently, Kim Brooks wrote an article for Salon called Death to high school english.

I was a pie chart of miffed, offended, inspired, and in agreement after finishing.

A summary: Kim Brooks is a college composition professor who feels that students don’t write enough in the classroom to be successful in college and instead are reading classics, and doing short presentations, with student enthusiasm at the forefront, and discussion that has no basis in the text.  Instead, students should be writing, as a form of critical thinking, analyzing, writing, writing writing.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.23.19 PMOn the one hand, I’m a self-proclaimed “English teacher that doesn’t teach novels.” On the other hand, I feel for those English teacher of old that still teach the classics and have students analyze the feminist theory in Pride and Prejudice and don’t care whether you’re engaged with a text as long as you can analyze and synthesize its parts.

I’m fortunately, not that teacher.  I didn’t really feel like Brooks was speaking to me so much because my kids write so much that I drowned in loose leaf paper every afternoon.  They write until they complain about all the writing.  They write, because the only true way to teach grammar is through writing.  They peer edit and then they revise, because if you’re not revising then are you even actually writing? I want pens to bleed out, Game of Thrones style.   I want pencils to go to the nub over the course of the week.  My students write individually, they write with peers, they write in collaborative groups, and as a class, I mean, when I think about it, it’s kind of insane the amount of trees that I’m singlehandedly killing until we get enough technology to go paperless.  I believe in this idea that students have to write, in every class, to learn.  STEM and English are not these mysterious outcasts to one another, they blend as easy as the arts and English, S(T)EAMlessly.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 5.24.38 PMMy advice to teachers who focus on the literature and not the writing.  Put a test on it.  Never in all my four years of teaching would I think that I would say this, but, lots and lots of teachers teach to a test.  If you put two constructive response questions on a state test that don’t even measure grammar or sentence variety, or flow, but only evidence and an answer, then most teachers who are being evaluated on those silly paragraphs will think of them as silly.  Put an essay on that sucker.  Put an argumentative speech on it.  Make it wear a slam poem.  If you don’t want to be that exciting, make them write a poem that uses all the bits of figurative language.  Throw the whole truck of rhetorical devices at them and make them put them on the page in a provocative way.  If you want teachers to care about writing, when they’re not writers themselves, then put a test on it.   The SAT and the ACT don’t measure student growth, but if you and all the rich phonies (a la Holden CauLfield) want kids to write, PUT A TEST ON IT.

Thoughts? I would love to hear from other teachers on how much writing they expect, what they’re favorite writing lesson is, or if you think I’m a complete looney.  Let it out, sister or mister.

Image by Ken Whytock (Creative Commons)

Also, please do not confuse this with me endorsing standardized testing.  I hate those beasts, hate, with a passionate, fiery, distaste, but I believe in writing.  And I believe in making the majority believe.  And write now, we gotta do what we gotta do.

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