Blog Head WhyIWrite

The first year I taught, back in the previous century, the school held a creative writing contest. The topic was “education,” of any type, and the essay submitted needed to be two pages long. One of my best students won the $100 prize by adopting the persona of a completely uneducated, but wise, adult, one who never went to high school, but recognized the need for formal education. She deliberately and consistently misspelled the same words, including eddication, her punctuation lacked coherence, and her grammar was strictly an afterthought. Nonetheless, her ideas had relevance and made perfect sense. More importantly, she never lost her tone, so by the end of the third paragraph, the judges, while they had no idea who the author was, were convinced of the “truth” of the narrator. The writing contest quickly became a search for second-place.

A few years later, in some of my less-talented classes, students had a weekly obligation to turn in a page of writing on any subject they chose. I provided a visual or auditory prompt for those who drew blanks at the time. Students had permission to write without considerations of grammar, and to help make sure that there was little pressure, I recorded only whether each student turned the work in on Friday; these were not graded essays. While some of the grammar was, let’s say, “innovative,” the content made me realize that these types of students, uninterested in literature, grammar, or other points that had to be covered throughout the year, had a great deal to say. Whether they were destined to grow into the “person” who wrote the first essay is undeterminable, but their interests and opinions led me to believe that what they felt was valid and important to them. Who was I to “correct” it? They received little else but “fixes” to their language in every other writing assignment, so this break must have been exhilarating to many of them.

The third incident, which came near the close of my career, involved a whole-class “Letter to the Editor” of the local newspaper, complaining about the lack of new books in the school, a common complaint of my classes back then. A student came up with the idea after reading a passage that was completely incongruous with his life; it dealt with radio personalities. He went directly to work after school, and his day ended at 10 pm, leaving him no time to contemplate the subtleties of Bob and Ray’s comedic talents. Switching from my well-conceived Lesson Plan, I explained to the class the intricacies of how to get their letter published, but they did all the writing, editing, correcting, and typing. Of course, there were mistakes in the final copy, but, since this was from them, I made no changes to it. When the letter was actually published, I had to answer to the Principal for allowing this “serious lapse in judgment,” but the students could not have been more proud of their accomplishment—what they wrote got into the paper!

On this “National Day on Writing,” I’d like to submit that students of all abilities can achieve personal satisfaction and reap immense gains if, at times, they are allowed to write with less stress on the formalities. Both teachers and students can then concentrate on what is being said, instead of focusing on the “errors.” There will always be time for that.