As someone who graduated high school recently I can confidently say that I was both helped, and hurt by my writing classes. Of course, writing frequently was a great thing for me, and I wouldn’t have the ability that I do today had I not done so many essays in school. However, as I was frantically thinking of what I should write about today I realized something new. I feel lost without guidelines.
School got me in the habit of expecting a set of standards for everything I did. I’ve always learned that there was a “professional” way that every person must write if they want to be successful. Surprisingly, when I got into the real world I realized that academic writing is almost frowned upon. People attach to communication that is natural and expressive of an author’s voice, not bland emotionless writing. Sadly, I feel I lost some of my personality from an assignment-driven mindset.
As I grew up in a quiet Arizona town my friends and I were always dreadful of the standardized writing tests. Oftentimes spelling, word-count, and formatting were valued more than the ability to tell a compelling story. Writing about bland prompts and meeting requirements taught me how to get a good grade, but it didn’t make me a better writer.
Many students I talked with in school exploited the same problem. We could put minimal effort into an essay, maybe not even believe what we were saying and still get an A. This was due to the standardized algorithmic system for what makes writing ‘good’. Teaching kids the steps to a good grade destroyed the purpose for presenting new ideas, and encouraged conforming.
In my sophomore year of high school I was assigned a research paper. My class was told to pick a subject and explore it thoroughly. The topic I wrote about was immigration, and I spent most my free time working on it until the paper was due. I was proud of it, more so than anything I’d written before it. Unfortunately I failed, and when I asked why my teacher told me “You did your cliff-notes wrong, that’s 40% off your grade.”
The trained communication I learned in school carries over into my writing today because sometimes, even subconsciously, I am looking for what rule I might have broken, or what else I could use to fill up space after typing up an article. For my whole life I’ve written to satisfy my teacher, rather than myself, and I think it’s time that changed.
I believe that in order to encourage a generation of truly expressive writers, many rules on the traditional essay rubric need to vanish. Strict guidelines do not breed success, they create waves of boring writers.
I’m not trying to say that proper grammar, and the expansion of vocabulary are unimportant. I’m just suggesting that schools should gear their curriculum more towards the production of original thoughts. If unique thinking is encouraged over a grade-driven curriculum I know that the ideas and writing of the future can be more creative than ever.