Friday, December 03, 2010

Churning Out Widgets

Some of you realize I read and research often ... a lot, actually, bordering on the fanatic, I guess. I can't stand not learning more, knowing I can only tap an iota of a fraction of what is out there. Our life is so full and we barely scratch the surface.

I especially love pieces that rebel and rant. I know how my passions spew onto paper when addressing a sensitive, soul-touching topic, so when I saw this one from a high school teacher named Bob Barsanti, in the December 2 issue of Education Week, I had to share.

Bob is after my own heart. He's sick of teaching children like churning out items on a production line. "Everything I needed to know about modern teaching, I learned in a factory."

I pumped an arm in the air when he said, "for a superintendent or any other politician, the school-as-mill has an attractive whistle to it. They can measure what goes on in a young lady's head, put a number to it, and pronounce it fit or foul. They can control what the kids learn, what the teachers instruct, and how big the "Mission Accomplished" banner will be when the test scores are posted." I've said this for years as a parent! But I was a crazy person making too many waves. Finally my sons graduated and my voice quieted.

What does this have to do with writing? It has everything to do with writing. Let me cover it in two schools of thought.

1. Students in public school. When you are teaching to the test, judging teachers on their students' aptitude test scores, educating students how to tow the line and goose-step to bubble-sheets and multiple-choice questions, you are squashing creative and cognitive thought. From my experience with mentoring writing teens, interviewing collegiate educators, and parenting, the system doesn't entice a kid to open-arm experiment with thought.

They've been taught so much to follow the rules that they can't make up rules on their own. That converts to an inability to solve problems. As a result, these students suffer when it comes to writing, because free thinking and boundless experimentation with words is mandatory for these young scribes to feel the call of the wild necessary for gifted stories.

2. New adult writers. Many grown-ups (not all, mind you) don't take writing seriously until they've become disgruntled with their current lives, left a profession, or released a pent-up need that's suffered for years. They envy young adults coming out of creative writing programs, thinking the students have an edge. These folks wish they held all those textbooks, had sat through those classes, been made to write theses, because then they'd be writers. So they take classes, attend conferences, sign up for seminars online along with teleconferences and the extra DVDs to refresh their minds later. They collect writing magazines, read books on writing.

See the similiarity? They are seeking the bubble sheets. They want the answers. They want to be scored. Don't get me wrong. Education is good. You need the basics. And occasionally it's nice to be motivated by those wh've gone before us. But at some point, the teacher has to close the book and make the student perform. That means writing. Writing with no reins. Writing with personality. Writing, failing and writing again. Writing without emulating, without trying to be the example in the book, the presenter at the conference, or the author at the book signing.

We have to write without looking it up to see if it's right. Write because the magic is there, not because we want someone's approval. With serious writing, there are no answers, just a constant stream of learning, growing and enjoying the process.

My point? Turn off the lessons and pull out a blank sheet of paper. Write like your life depended on it, not because you were taught a certain way.


JD said...

Agreed, Hope. I noticed while a student that so much of testing consists of rote memorization and then regurgitation come test-time. Creativitity falls by the wayside or--just as bad--can be discouraged as "weird" or "wrong." That doesn't leave much room for individuality.

Dan Bodine said...

Hope -
Thanks again for the thoughts. I'm hooked on readings about "social minimalism" (Canadian professor Rhoda E. Howard-Hassman's Human Rights and Search for Community got me started), and have a gmail reading file marked Fascism Rising. Amazing the structured thinking the radical capitalism era beginning in the late '70s has brought to America. Stifling creativity, of course, is just one blowback. Thanks for being a voice for Resistance.
--Dan Bodine,