I fired our writing teacher.
I was hesitant to fire her because she is the only black person my son has ever talked to outside of a store setting. But once I started thinking like that, I knew I had to fire her.
The more papers she assigned, the more I wondered why anyone still pushes that kind of writing.
So many writing teachers will say that people who write clearly think clearly. And teachers tell kids they need to learn to “write well” because writing is good in and of itself. But actually having good ideas is what’s good, not being able to write well about them.
And this is a great time to tell you that many, many scientists in the US speak English as a second language and have someone else write their papers, which is a great example of how the ideas are more important than being able to write about them.
I think my son needs to learn how to search better. He asked me why Slaughterhouse Five is about war. That was a good question. Guess where I sent him? SparkNotes. There was a two-paragraph summary of the book that answered his question. He could have written a paper to answer the question, but that would be absurd when millions of people have already answered the question online.
What about taking another approach? Teach kids to write short. I don’t want to read a five-paragraph essay from anyone. People pay attention to brevity, and as we shift faster and faster to a video-based, emoji-laced language, words must get shorter and shorter.
Actually, I think my son just needs to write without adverbs. You can’t go wrong if you leave adverbs out. And that’s not just the -ly words. But you don’t have to learn all the adverb rules, you can just use adverbless to take out the adverbs from all of your writing. I love this tool. I love the sentiment that writing well isn’t rocket science it’s just caring enough to take a second pass at what you’ve done.
McSweeney’s recently published a list of letters Nick Hornby wrote to explain why his kid’s homework wasn’t done. And Hornby begs the question, “What if kids declined to write assignments they didn’t like?”
Hornby uses the language of the work world to show us that when we don’t want to write something as adults, we weasel out of it. Here are two of my favorites, but you should go read them all. You’ll never want your kid to write another school essay again.
Dear Mrs D,
Thanks for your homework. Your idea of writing a Christmas ghost story was a good one, but it’s not really the kind of thing I tend to do — it’s a little bit too genre for my tastes. Try Kevin, who sits next to me. He loves that stuff.
Dear Mrs D,
It’s a no, as you’ve probably guessed. The problem for me is that it’s too similar to something I did quite recently, and though I know you’ll say that you’re asking for a book report of a different book, the form and shape of book reports are sufficiently alike for me to conclude that the homework would feel a bit stale. If I’m going to commit an hour of my life to something, I’d want to feel stimulated by the freshness of the challenge. I hope we can get to do something together soon!