Friday, September 3, 2010

Writing, On Purpose

I want my students to love writing.  I want them to know the power of language and I want them to wield their word power thoughtfully and with purpose. But what purpose?  And whose?

We (meaning us crazy, dedicated English teachers) often say we work to instill a love of writing in our students; yet, we determine almost all of what (and why) they write.  How can that inspire love?

We love that which helps us be our best selves.  We love the friend who gives us honest, sincere advice.  We love the parent who encourages our endeavors.  We love the job that allows us to change the lives of others.  We love the hobby that provides a vehicle for our creativity.   We love the spouse who listens to us so we can face each new day with confidence.  We love the child whose sense of wonder at the world and lack of restraint when doling out kisses gives us a fresh perspective and renewed hope.

So, if we want students to love writing, the purpose must be personal.  As Jim Burke stated in his blog this week,"all writing is personal, an extension of ourselves, a record and part of the process by which we create ourselves."  If all writing is personal, what is the writing of our students saying about them?  What are we giving it a chance to say? If all we do is teach students how to address a prompt on a standardized exam, we have not really taught them to write.

And, "So what?" some might say.  So, not every student leaves his English class itching to write. So, not every student enjoys composing an essay.  Is that so bad?

I might not think so if I had never seen a writer be born.  If I had never seen the excitement that comes when she finally has just the right words on paper to explain how she feels.  If I had never seen the pride that comes when his words make people stop and listen.  If I had never seen the one who blends into the background finally find that words are a way to stand in the spotlight. But, I have. And I have seen the struggle and the shame of those who cannot express themselves through writing.  They hide their thoughts and, in turn, themselves, fearing that someone will see them as less because their knowledge of grammar is lacking or their words become a mud puddle on the page.  When we teach our students to see every piece they write as a reflection of self, when we teach them how to balance writing for a purpose determined by someone else with writing for a purpose they determine, we give them the armor they need to walk in the world with a wonderful knowledge of and peace with who they are.

The blogging bug has bitten some people close to me.  I could feel threatened -- hey, I'm the one who blogs around here! -- but I'm not, not at all.  I know what writing does for me (see my About Me page if you have not)  and I am learning that it has the same effect on almost anyone who finds the courage to do it. Anais Nin said "the writer shakes up the familiar scene and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it."  I believe, as if by magic, when we are writers, we see a new meaning in ourselves.

PS: Blog away, boys.  Write until you love it.

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