Current/Recent Reading List

28 November 2006

It's All A Formality

Tomorrow is Stop #2 for the workshop on writing that I, along with my partner presenter, "volunteered" (on behalf of the county office, nod-nod, wink-wink) to give to all the high schools in the county. The last one went quite well, so my anxiety levels are way down, but I'll still be glad to get it over.

Teaching high school writing, or talking about writing for that matter, is a humbling experience. By the time they reach me, the kids I can help the most already know how to form complete sentences that make sense (I know, a novel concept that ninth and tenth graders should, just maybe, already have that in the arsenal). The kids I am the least help with, or perhaps no help with at all, are those who cannot routinely form even middle-school level sentences. Some of them work very hard, and I work as hard as I can with them, but it makes no difference.

I am not an expert in the field, but I suppose much of the latter's lack of facility with language comes from the language of the home and a poverty of reading throughout their young lives. As with much in learning acquisition skills, if language abilities haven't clicked by about third grade or so, the future outlook is probably grim. However I have a little pet theory about another factor.

Kids like to write the things they want to write, like notes to each other. No big surprise there, but the point is they understand that writing can be, indeed is, an important form of communication. What they balk at with school writing assignments, I really believe, is the formality of them. So many of my kids simply have no exposure to the idea of being formal. This doesn't just apply to writing, but to all walks of life. Ingrained in them is a rebellious nature regarding any mention of dressing up, speaking properly, behaving differently in public than in private, etc. Even folks around my age, pretty low down on the food chain of formal generations, grew up understanding that you had to dress presentably for visits to the grandparent's house and, most assuredly, to church. And one certainly understood, that in public and proper situations (as well as on school assignments), language conventions needed to match the dignity of the occasion.

Add this to the pile of uphill battles. Maybe we should force all our kids, from an early age, to watch Cary Grant movies as part of their school curriculae.