I rarely tout my teaching abilities as a reason that I am homeschooling, which is probably why I have a homeschool blog full of beach resort photos instead of teaching tips.
However I do think I’m qualified to teach writing. I’ve taught writing at Brown, Boston University, and the University of Paris. And having been a teacher of college students I feel qualified to tell you that being a writing teacher is the process of giving constant feedback about what is interesting and what is not interesting.
Of course, people do not need good grammar or good sentence structure. But that’s not what you teach when you teach writing. You teach people how to know when they are in the box and when they are thinking out of the box. Out of the box is interesting. Following all the rules is boring.
Because look at this.
The paragraph break is so interesting when done incorrectly that it almost encourages more rule breaking.
My best writing teachers focused on cutting out what was not interesting, and so I learned that only about half of write I write is publishable. Even now. I write this post but surely my blog editor will cut half of it. I don’t even know if this sentence will make it to your desktop.
So you should teach how you need to have an editor. If you can’t listen to someone telling you when you’re boring, you will never get more interesting. This is no small feat. A well thought out argument is interesting. A stupid argument is stupid. So if you tell a kid to aim for intersting, it will force smarter writing, but only by accident.
A study from Stanford shows that GenY are the best writers in history because they are used to writing for an audience—not in class, but online—so they try a lot harder since they know hundreds of people will be reading. Gen Y knows not to be boring. (And if the assignment is intrinsically boring, there’s always EssayForSale.)
So it’s no surprise that Gen Y doesn’t really like Twitter. Gen X and Baby boomers like Twitter. And they are boring. A study from Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech and MIT shows that people think two-thirds of the tweets they read are boring. What’s notable about the study is the widely acknowledged need to be interesting. We did not have that when I was in high school. Instead, accuracy, following rules, reading the right books—this was the point of writing class when I was in high school. Today, the point is to be interesting.
That’s a great goal. And aiming for interesting on Twitter, in just 140 characters, is no small feat. (I spent about 30 minutes on each of my tweets, but the payoff is that I have 128,000 followers.)
So as the person in your life who probably has the most experience teaching writing at the college level, here’s my advice: Get your kid on Twitter, tell your kid when their writing is boring, force your kid to write for an audience of more than you. The number of followers a kid has is a more accurate reflection of their writing than the grade they earn from a teacher.