Reading & Reacting: A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools

By Rebecca Wallace-Seagall @ A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools – The Atlantic

This is a opinion piece is a passionate statement for the need to teach the genres of writing that are typically called creative writing. It is a plea that I fully endorse and have seen first-hand how dramatic student writers can grow when afforded opportunities to write in more personal genres.

While I have always been uncomfortable with the term “creative writing,” believing all writing is creative, I have grown more uncomfortable with the notion of relegating all “non-academic” forms to a single course in an English department.

Somewhere in the English Academy battles that took place in mid-to-late 20th century, reading literature was privileged over creating literature. Thus, many K-12 English teachers began to narrow the curriculum, even before the demands of high-stakes testing. Many bought the idea that “Writing stories is what you do when you are a young child. By the time they get thigh school they need only be writing essays,” except of course for that creative writing course that is available as a potential elective.

However, Wallace-Seagall touches upon some genuine values and benefits of teaching personal narratives and memoir, as beneficial genres but also as vehicles for understanding other aspects of writing, like craft, precision, and more. She also takes on the Common Core’s further reductionism of writing, more specifically David Coleman and some of his infamous remarks. Here is the crux of the piece.

It is not easy to teach creative writing within the confinement of school. It is not easy to tackle the issues that arise, and it’s not easy to learn how to teach fiction and memoir writing well. But it is possible. And many teachers are doing it, and doing it well, across the country.

David Coleman, the cynical architect of the new curriculum that will be imposed on public schools in 46 states over the next two years, is trying to reverse an education trend “that favors self-expression and emotion over lucid communication.” But skilled teachers of creative genres have always known that all good writing requires lucid communication. It is impossible to teach any form of writing without applying and celebrating analytic concepts and mechanical precision.

If young people are not learning to write while exploring personal narratives and short fiction, it is because we as educators need more training — or the specifics of the curriculum need development. It is not because those forms of writing in themselves are of no use.

There’s a reason fiction and narrative nonfiction outsell all other genres in the U.S. It’s the same reason there are 56 million WordPress blogs and 76 million Tumblrs. Human beings yearn to share, reflect, and understand one another, and they use these reflections to improve the state of things, both personal and public. If we want our students to have this kind of impact, we have to teach them to express themselves with both precision and passion.

I have so many thoughts about the benefits of teaching personal narrative that has been a primary focus of my own research over the last couple of years that they warrant considerably longer treatment than is reasonable in a response to this article. I hope to share some of that material in future.

Ultimately, this article makes a strong case for why the kind of writing typically relegated to creative writing courses, should not, in fact, be restricted as it often is. In fact, I would submit it is at the core of a humanities education, informing all kinds of other writing and thinking.

Image: iPad

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