The Slow Death of The American Author

…is not as terrifying, detrimental, or pressing as the slow death of writing in schools. Yeah, yeah Scott Turow is a traitorous sock puppet for the very industries that take advantage of artists—both budding and longstanding—on a daily basis. Who cares? Our concerns as an artistic community and the current debate on the state of publishing will have all been for naught if we don’t address the real problems threatening the future of this creative industry: The Public School System.

My mom is a teacher in a low income school. We’re all aware of the problems facing public schools, especially ones in low income neighborhoods: lack of resources, restrictive curriculum, etc. The list goes on. Our students are trailing behind other developed countries on standardized tests. They’re dropping out at alarming rates. They just don’t give a shit and as a nation sometimes it feels a little like we don’t either.

But the other day I became aware of something truly heartbreaking to me as both a reader and a writer. Kids are struggling. With reading. With writing. And not just with the language or the context. These kids are struggling with the formation of ideas. They’re reading something and regurgitating it word for word with no hint of questioning, no hint of wonder. They’re absorbing the story on the surface level because that’s all the subsequent multiple choice questions ask of them. But when it comes to digging deeper and considering things like meaning—the most important aspect of language—they’re lost.

For me, writing ignited an opinion. It was a way to not only express myself but to discover myself. Reading made me ask questions and through those questions I found out the answers to who I really was at a fundamental level. And in what other disciplines can we be rewarded for our vulnerability? I used to revel in writing essays and response papers because it was license to share my thoughts and to have them acknowledged by others. Writing was about discovering my individuality. It was about finding my voice.

But what about all of the children out there who don’t even realize what it means to have an opinion; to have that opinion heard? If we don’t demand that schools place an emphasis on writing as a means of creative expression, there will be no slow death of the American author. It will be one cosmic flash resulting in an incurable blindness to all things magic.

Because if you don’t know the sound of your own voice there is only one thing you can ever be—lost.

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6 thoughts on “The Slow Death of The American Author

  1. I was a substitute teacher for 2 years and it was scary how hard it was for some kids to think beyond facts and tests. It really is teaching to the test these days. My wife and I are already trying to figure out ways to make sure my son retains his imagination when he starts school.

    Something I was told in Florida about this was rather interesting. The major push for higher test scores and grades is our country’s obsession with China. We want to stay their equal and we’re trying to adopt a version of their education system. Yet, over in China, they’re looking at our old education system that promoted creativity and thinking beyond test scores. I’m not sure if this actually true, but if it is then we’re trying to eliminate our strengths that our rival is adopting. When did creativity and imagination become such a taboo in school anyway?

    • I’m not sure if it’s that creativity has become taboo or if it’s just undervalued especially when it comes to allocating funding and resources. I think the public school system just doesn’t want to pay for it and it’s easy to cut creative programs because the benefits of artistic expression can’t be measured by standardized tests. They’re just an easy target.

      I recently moved to Florida and when I was looking into maybe getting my alternative certification I read some rather unsettling things about the public school system here. It does seem to be all about test scores which has created this environment where both teachers and students feel an extreme amount of pressure to do well for the sake of their futures and their jobs. But the thing is no one can thrive when they feel constricted or afraid. It’s impossible. So what the school system here has done is create an environment where failure is an inevitability. But then again failure is always an inevitability when you start trying to measure children’s worth based on multiple choice tests.

      I could go on and one about the public school system but I definitely agree that if we continue on this path it will inevitably strip us of those creative strengths our rivals once envied and who knows how long it would take us to undo that kind of generational damage.

      • Undervalued is a better term. I thought of taboo because a lot of teachers were telling me that they’re discouraged from teaching outside of the test and working toward creative goals. It’s the test score focus that does this. Students aren’t graded on creativity, so it isn’t seen as important. For some, teaching creativity is a risk because a student might try to be creative on a test with an essay or something.

        The saddest part I found out about the Florida system is that they don’t even look at all of the students. They only look at the top 25% and bottom 25% of the class to see if progress has been made. Everyone in the middle is barely glanced at. So, teachers focus on grooming the high performing students and wrestling with the low performing students. I ran into so many kids that felt that they weren’t important enough for their teacher’s attention because they were average. I even met a few who purposely performed poorly to get attention or to get their teacher in trouble. It’s really a mess down there and now I’m going on and on about it.

        It’s much easier to strip them of creativity than restore it. To restore it, you need to get them to think outside of their comfort zone. I would go with at least half the time it takes to cause the damage.

      • Actually, I think I meant double the time. Sorry about that. Still waking up.

  2. startingwriter says:

    I think students don’t give a “shit” because we’ve turned into a nation of winners. Making trophies for winners and losers is like turning education into communism. In Cuba we didn’t have a concept of summer school, or multiple choice tests-Nothing could be more embarrassing than repeating a grade, and the teacher were allow to throw chalks at you-possibly even call you dumb in a more colorful language.

    • Sort of goes along with that mentality “if you’re not first, you’re last.” Um no maybe I was second or third and what’s wrong with just doing your best? The problem is when people feel discouraged on a daily basis, they become complacent and completely uninterested in even trying. They’d rather not take the risk of being a winner or a loser and would rather just be neither.

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