I love writing. I have always loved writing. Anytime I go down memory lane all the way to when I was a little kid in elementary school I see myself writing. I can’t imagine a life without a pen and paper in my hand. Even though I don’t write much on actual paper anymore, I still have a huge collection of pretty and interesting notebooks and journals. Just having them around makes me happy. So, imagine my heartache when I realized (not for the first time) that the written word is in danger of dying. It’s not being taught in school anymore. Not really. Yes, we still teach the kids that d-o-g together spells dog and we still teach them how to form their letters and then their words but we don’t go much farther than that anymore. Children are going into middle school not being able to put two sentences together in a way that makes much sense. Students are going off to college not being able to write a cohesive short research paper.
Some years ago when I decided to go back to school and take a second degree (because you know, you can never have enough of those) I was shocked to read some of my fellow students’ papers. These were native English speakers (unlike me) who apparently had never quite learned how to write. It is scary and it is tragic. The educational world is putting so much emphasis on reading and math (especially at an elementary level) that the students are expected to learn how to write by osmosis. If you are a linguist like me you know that writing is not a natural skill; it is not something you pick up from reading. It is true that people who are good writers are normally also good readers but I have known many “good” readers who were absolute disasters when it came to writing.
Not only does writing need to be taught (as in the mechanics of it) but the LOVE for writing needs to be cultivated. Most kids (hell, most grown-ups) absolutely hate writing. When I tell my students they are going to write something I get groans and moans and lots of, “How many sentences?” and “Do I have to?” However some of my best experiences as a teacher have been connected to teaching writing, both at the elementary level and college. When made to see the magic of writing, children (and adults) take to it like fish to water. I have had students who struggle with reading and math and who are terrible spellers just come to life when given the right opportunity to write for fun. Unfortunately because most adults also hate writing (and that includes a lot of teachers) children are made to believe that writing is just plain boring.
People! We are killing the written word. Demand that writing makes a return to school curricula, encourage your children and/or students to keep journals, to make up stories, to use their imagination through words. Writing is magic and we all need a little magic in our lives. Let’s keep that magic alive.