The New York Times has decided to take up the cause of studying English in college.
This discussion sounds similar to the discussion of whether we should legalize gay marriage. Generation Y is so overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing gay marriage that the debate is a waste of time. It’s opposed by conservative, out-of-date Baby Boomers who want to freeze society in debate sessions like they try to hold onto their delusions of agelessness with plastic surgery.
The discussion of teaching English is absolutely ridiculous. Here’s why:
1. Writing for just one teacher to read is stupid.The Internet provides a way to write for hundreds of people at once. Which means we try much harder when we write a comment online than we do when we write a paper for one teacher. To hear that a student is more motivated by a good grade than a good conversation is absolutely crushing. So we should all be grateful that kids care a lot more about writing online than writing for school.
2. Social media teaches writing better than school. Stanford has conducted a wide-ranging study of kids who have access to top educators, and the conclusion is that kids learn better writing in the context of social media than in a classroom. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest one is that we write to inform and persuade. Trying to keep people you don’t know from clicking away is a much bigger challenge than writing for one teacher. So kids are better off engaging in social media, which, by the way, is all written.
3. The Internet drastically changes how we write.Wiring that is relevant and informative has links. The respect for the reader increases immensely when you link to the sources that inform your opinions. The information is all there, online, so there is no point writing the information again. You can link to it and write your opinion. Which means that now we have downloaded the encyclopedia onto the Internet, and we have created a living encyclopedia in Wikipedia, you do not need to pontificate on your research unless you are doing original research. This style of writing is new, not part of standard English education, and learnable only by writing online. (Hold on. Sidenote: This is a great link about the passion behind Wikipedia.)
So can we all just stop talking about teaching writing and teaching English? We are wasting our kids’ time. Tell them to write a comment on someone’s blog and subscribe to the comments to see if anyone responds.
Finally, take a look at the video up top. It’s breathtaking for two reasons. First, it’s an example of the outstanding writing that kids are doing in the context of social media. But also, it’s an example of how very strong writing is empowering kids in ways that were unthinkable before social media.
The father in this video is incredibly abusive in his disrespect for his daughter. The ending is stunning because of the dad’s pathetic use of violence. But the end is also hopeful. This girl’s words speak so much for her. And I have a hope that she will come out fine, because she’s using her voice. She didn’t need an English class for this.