Talk Back: Teach Our Kids to Love Writing

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My subtle thoughts on education often leap from silent to sound-off. I’m convinced that many of our norms would have made our ancestors cringe with disbelief. Testing is so common place that children often equate school with anxiety. What happened to discover, wonderment, and fun? So strenuous are today’s demands that many children enter rooms with furrowed brows and heavy sighs, a dilemma that increasingly intensifies as they transition through the ranks. I’m most grieved because it breeds a venomous contempt for the very subjects that undergird their future success.

Take for instance writing. Ahhh, the power of the pen! Writing not only extends students abilities to convey their viewpoints, it empowers them to recreate fully sensational experiences for those whose opinions don’t mirror their own. Articulately crafted words place readers in an author’s shoes – allowing them to feel the soothing warmth of a tangerine sun; smell the indelible scent of an affectionate father’s cologne; see the spirited triumph of a failure turned mastermind; taste the decadence of a scratch made peach cobbler, and feel the throbbing heartache of a mother whose lost yet another son.

Nevertheless, many students approach the idea of writing with angst and contempt, then aim for the minimum with the familiar phrase, “Does it have to be long?” I’m convinced this is in part because so many teachers “unfriended” writing themselves. Still deeply affected by their own negative experiences as children, they rush through the process, bleed children’s papers with merciless red ink, and invoke as much anguish as they themselves experienced decades ago…but at whose expense?

The damage assails the African American communities. Writing is a skill, if not a craft and an art, that our children should be compelled to master. It is with writing that many ills are made known. Writing enables families to cement the legacies of their culture. Writing bears with it opportunities for recognition, discovery, challenge, exploration, when necessary, upheaval, and most importantly – freedom.

All too often students turned adults seek positions in the arenas of higher education or the volatile workforce with the eagerness (still) of tender children, ready for the first day of school. They prepare rigorously for interviews, polish up with their best duds, and are suited for the task of flashing that charismatic smile. They are almost confident that they will nail every step of the process until they are befuddled by the need – to write. Essays. Short Answers. Imaginative Scenarios. Each reveal obstacles in their path that will frequently lead to their career demise even before it starts.

The punctuation pierces their chances. Withering word choice shows their “lack of knowledge.” The difficulties they exhibit in stringing few sentences together with a symbiotic flow leads employers to believe they just aren’t a “best fit” for the job, and this may have no bearing on the fact they are otherwise ridiculously talented.

As an educator, speaker, writer, wife, and mom, I am convinced that writing can – and should – be taught better, with the vivacity that infuses its very notion. In my classroom, I teach it in its fullness- by allowing my students to experience each of the senses they are asked to use when penning their intimate thoughts. So we may be cooking when visitors stop by. For how can I ask them to write about what they see, feel, hear, smell, and taste – if in the tradition, I only prompt them to write what they remember? Writing is a gift. Let’s place it where it belongs: in the palm of their hands so they can author their success.

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