Comments: Is Our Children Learning to Write?

When I was fresh out of college I lived in Iowa City and did a series of odd jobs for awhile, mostly so I could pay the rent and still have some beer money left over.

One job I had was a scorer or NCS, a standardized testing company (who know doubt loves GW Bush and the No Child Left Behind Act). My job was to read essays/writing samples and score them from 1 to 4.

I have never had a more fucking boring job in my life, then when I got assigned to grading 8th grade essays from Michigan. The topic was "An Important Person In My Life."

These kids were clearly taught the test and were a bunch of drones. Well over 80% of the essays follwed the basic five paragraph structure (intro, three supporting paragraphs, and conclusion). I swear to God I must have read well over 200 essays that had the thesis sentence "My grandpa is an important person in my life because he is makes me laugh, I go fishing with him ,and he's always there for me." You can figure out where the rest of the essay went.

The crazy shit to me, is a trained monkey could punch out an essay like this. But the scoring template we were given deemed these type of essays as 3s out of 4.

And that's the problem. Kids are taught these mechanical structures to follow and then rewarded a B+ at the minimum as long as they follow these mindless templates.

It was pure gold whenever I came across an essay that was actually worthy of a 4. I remember one guy talking about how he and his dad had tears in their eyes when they saw the Gordie Howe shrine at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Canada. It was well-written too. After reading an essay like that I'd feel like Charlie when he found the gold foil inside his Williy Wonka chocolate bar.

Posted by mike at February 10, 2004 09:27 PM

In high school I liked writing critical essays because I had to take a second look at what I'd read. We had teachers who loved the literature and a lot of students who loved the process.

In college I didn't take any literature courses because I didn't want to mix up the grading process with my readings. Maybe it's just a good habit that took root, but I found, and still find, myself writing critical essays after finishing a good book.

The process encourages careful reading and reinforces any learning of proper grammer and spelling that may have occurred.

During the glorious end of the Soviet Union we got the Moscow evening news on cable. Turns out the Russians actually celebrate Pushkin Day with songs and readings. It may be unrealistic to expect Americans to show a universal love of reading, but the option should be available to students who do. There may be more of them than we suspect.

Posted by serial catowner at February 19, 2004 01:09 PM