I am just home after meeting with some very talented and knowledgeable 6th grade teachers. Our goal, to discuss the Common Core standards and get a feel for where they were in planning for their upcoming insurgence.
Part of the discussion was that in writing a persuasive piece of writing that the use of “I” is forbidden. I asked by whom it was forbidden and they both looked at me like, “everyone” knows this. And in walks the infamous “They” that makes these rules. Who is the “they” in this arena? And while you can find that in certain places the use of “I” is frowned upon it is not in others. What about the fact that some of the best persuasive pieces ever written have a very capital and strong sense of I!!
For instance, if you read through my blog entries, how would you classify (for lack of a better word) what kind of writing it is? What box would you put it in? Persuasive? Argument? Narrative? Informational? Fiction? Non-Fiction? Opinion? Or is it a brand new genre called blogging? Or are there strands of each and all of these?
Or is it just ranting from a girl who lives in the grey areas of life navigating through a world of black and white…forever bumping into the boundaries set by others; hard and fast rules that become the letter of the law lacking any theory to back it up.
I envision it as writing my own newspaper column each week. Where would that fit in?
I see it as a place where I gather my thoughts, opinions, and ideas and then attempt to support them with the thoughts and ideas and opinions of others. Sometimes they are simply ideas of my own that I attempt to connect to begin to make sense of what I am thinking about. I write for the surprise that Donald Murray always wrote about. Does this change what “kind” of writing I am writing on each and every attempt? Or does it even matter what “kind” of writing is if my readers are reading it and it is making them think and wonder and respond?
And why do we insist on creating “new” kinds of writing that only exist in the world of school? Have you ever seen or read a book report in the “real” world? What about the whopper of a 5-paragraph essay? When is the last time your boss came to you and said you need to write up a 5-paragraph essay, due on my desk by Monday? NO, you have not because the idea of 5 paragraphs is another myth created in the world of education in an attempt to dumb down the process of writing.
These teachers showed me a template for a persuasive (yes 5 paragraphs in this one too) where the students could essentially fill in the blanks and create a piece of writing that would fulfill the requirements of the Common Core Standards. I have to SHOUT out here that I really don’t believe these are the intentions behind the CCSS. This narrow thinking goes back to what Don Graves speaks about as teaching writing in terms of painting by number. All of the writing in these mythical genres look the same, feels the same, reads the same. BORING!!! BUT, as the teachers respond, if we do this then all of the standards will be met and we will be able to point out specifically in different colored pens which parts fulfill which standard. This leaves teachers in an impossible stance. They have to choose whether or not to do what they are told or to teach what they know is good writing. Wouldn’t you think they would be the same thing?
Our car is making a horrible noise. (Using a story/narrative strand here to make my point) There is a screeching sound that just makes your ears quiver when you turn the wheel. We need to take it to the mechanic to get it fixed. When it arrives he will listen to it, diagnose it and make the necessary changes. Imagine another world, say the world where school meets auto repair and instead of relying on the mechanic there is a checklist that says he must add some simile, a bit of metaphor as well as a heave dose of dialogue to fix and complete this engine repair. When done he can return it to us with all the things he can check off the list, but still with a broken car.
Taking the person OUT of the process only creates nonsensical ridiculous and completely absurd moves. There is NO sense in it and yet this is exactly the response I am seeing to the CCSS. It is about coverage and covering one’s ass, if I may be so blunt…but who cares if your ass is covered if you are turning out broken down cars and students? Taking the writer, the “I” out of the process is not going to create confident writers who know and understand when and where to use a writerly move if they have never had the opportunity as writers to make those decisions. (Using compare and contrast to drive my point home)
I do not start writing thinking; I will use metaphor, simile and dialogue in this piece. I start out with an idea and then as I write there are opportunities where these moves may or may not be useful to make my writing what I envision it to be. I may even remove my car metaphor before this piece is formally posted on my blog. The point it that these decisions are made my ME, the writer, so that I can create something that makes sense and that will engage my readers (hopefully) and allow them to think about something in a way that maybe they had not thought about it before.
My daughter sent me a link the other day about some middle schoolers involved in inquiry projects and created controlled experiment and then wrote it up and submitted it to various scientific journals to share their findings. Many of the journals, while they praised the work of the students and it’s originality were not open to accepting the work of these student because their report started with “Once upon a time”, in other words it did not follow the “rules” of the scientific genre.
And yet, you can see here on this link to TED that the work of these students was eventually published and is now one of the most read scientific reports on the Internet. http://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_amy_o_toole_science_is_for_everyone_kids_included.html
And here is a link to the actual paper that was published. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/12/18/rsbl.2010.1056.full
So why are so many people reading this and watching this TED talk? I would argue (making this an argument piece now!) that they are reading it and listening to it because it is original and interesting and shows us what our kids CAN do if given the opportunity.
So what are we doing? In our efforts to do what is “right” we are forgetting to think about how kids learn, why kids learn and why they don’t. Why are kids so totally removed from their own educations, their own thinking, their processes of discovery and wonder and curiosity? Why? Why? Because that is exactly what we are asking of them. To fill in the blank, not to think about what they are writing, check it off the list and move onto the next genre. And the beat goes on…
Photo Credits: BLG Consulting Group, communicationissuccess.blogspot.com, http://unhmagazine.unh.edu, UNH Alumni, http://theclimatescepticsparty.blogspot.com/