I finished Most Likely to Succeed this past weekend. I’ll do a longer review on the book as a whole in a later post, but I want to comment on one of the themes that stuck to me. The authors are clearly huge advocates for the hands-on, tangible and pursposeful experiences as part of the curriculum at every school, at every level. I wholeheartedly agree with them and loved the constant emphasis on both presentation skills and the opportunity for self-directed assignments in schools.
I am more than content with my decision to major in English. But, I had a hard time choosing a minor. Ia wanted to minor in Creative Writing, Economics and Theology, however, because I loved what I was learning in all three subject areas, I didn’t pick one minor; I split my elective credits between the three. It was in my first creative writing class that I realized I could have been attending a different college, perhaps a “better” college, had I received more self-driven, experimental classes or assignments, such as writing a play. When I was a freshman in high school, I read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Everything from the wrongful and vivid murder of Giles to it’s historical background pulled me in and led me to reading it several times a year for the next two years. There was something about the the setting, writing style, character detail and overall tone that made this piece of work seem so lively. I wanted to create something that is both historical and makes the reader feel as if it were unfolding in her presence. What stopped me? I didn’t really know I could do something like that. I didn’t know I had the capability or the time. I didn’t know where to start. But, more importantly, I didn’t have the right tools or instruction. The first few lessons of my college creative writing class were spent learning the ingredients of a good short story and reading as many short stories as possible. With each story, we identified “what was working” and “what could use work”. We then wrote our own short stories and had the entire class read and crit our work. There was an entire hour and fifteen minutes dedicated to helping me improve my work. My classmates provided marked-up copies of my story and highlighted example sentences that point to how a literary device, say tone, is used to make the main characters desires more clear. Classmates would iften higlight a line that they liked for no particular reason. At the end of each session, the author would defend their work. I worked tirelessly to make sure every sentence was grammatically correct and flowed from one to the other. Every sentence was thought out. I wanted my story to be clear, unique, witty and powerful. I knew every word and punctuation mark mattered in order to leave the reader with a sentimental feeling. After this creative writing class, my writing in all my classes became stronger. I taught myself to be actively aware of which sentences were initially too clunky and wordy and which sentences were fluff and superficial. I wish I had this opportunity in high school, specifically after reading The Crucible. My English and History grades would have been higher. My AP scores as well. When I think back on it, I knew I could have improved my writing had I been exposed to a class like creative writing sooner. You see, making up my own story about something I cared about brought the importance of concise, proper writing to life. I probably would have made it a challenge to make my other papers more focused and clear. I was too young to identify and act on what my mind and soul desired. But it’s mostly because my school had very few electives and only one AP course by my Senior year.
Creative writing gives students the opportunity to in vision whatever it is they think about, whatever it is they like or who they want to be. There must be a clear demonstration of how punctuation and dictation work in a story that’s uses these elements of writing to touch a student, but after that’s done, the rest is history. While, maybe not. Consistent renforcement of creative, non- judgemental but accurate writing is key.
I’ve previously wrote about the need for at least two in depth economics courses in high school and have agreed with Dintersmith and Wagner on the need for Civics and Financial Literacy in high school. As you can tell from this post, I feel the same way about creative writing.
If schools want students to communicate well through writing, than replace or add creative writing to the high school curriculum. Schools should perform an experiment and have one class take a creative writing class while another class takes a normal english class and see if there’s a difference. Perhaps it’s something that’s introduced during the summer months, instead of not requiring students to do anything academic (which makes no sense for growth).