Sunday, July 05, 2009

I want you to write...a theme...

So begins one of the crucial scenes in "Christmas Story".  This is when Ralphie envisions not the drudgery of coming up with 250 words (keeping a running count), but a way to get his Christmas wish.
Next, when Ralphie writes a theme about the BB gun for Mrs. Shields (Tedde Moore), his teacher at Harding Elementary School, Ralphie gets a C+, and Mrs. Shields writes "P.S. You'll shoot your eye out" on it. [More]
That was me I those many years ago.  I hated writing.  And here I am spewing out words like it is fun.

I'm not alone, and perhaps this could be a good thing.

Go back 20, 30 years and you will find all of us doing more talking than writing. We rued literacy levels and worried over whether all this phone-yakking and television-watching spelled the end of writing.

Few make that claim today. I would hazard that, with more than 200m people on Facebook and even more with home internet access, we are all writing more than we would have ten years ago. Those who would never write letters (too slow and anachronistic) or postcards (too twee) now send missives with abandon, from long thoughtful memos to brief and clever quips about evening plans. And if we subscribe to the theory that the most effective way to improve one’s writing is by practicing—by writing more, and ideally for an audience—then our writing skills must be getting better.

Take the “25 Things About Me” meme that raged around Facebook a few months
ago. This time-waster, as many saw it, is precisely the kind of brainstorming exercise I used to assign to my freshman writing students decades ago. I asked undergraduates to do free-writing, as we called it, because most entered my classroom with little writing experience beyond formal, assigned essays. They only wrote when they were instructed to, and the results were often arch and unclear, with ideas kept at arms length. Students saw writing as alien and intimidating--a source of anxiety. Few had experience with writing as a form of self-expression. So when I stood in front of a classroom and told students to write quickly about themselves, without worrying about grammar or punctuation or evaluation—”just to loosen up,” I would say—I was asking them to do something new. Most found the experience refreshing, and their papers improved.

Today those freewriting exercises are redundant. After all, hundreds of
thousands of people wrote “25 Things About Me” for fun. My students compose e-mails, texts, status updates and tweets "about seven hours a day," one sophomore told me. (She also says no one really talks to each other anymore). They enter my classroom more comfortable with writing--better writers, that is--and we can skip those first steps. [More]

It is fair to say most of us wasting our fingers pounding away. (Luckily, I'm only wasting two)

But this new familiarity with putting thoughts into written words will not be a bad thing for our world, I think.

[Update:  I had no idea what "twee" meant, so look here]

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Interesting, I had never thought about it like that. Now thinking about myself it is certainly true. Wonder what it will lead to with future generations?