Sunday, February 21, 2010

Death of the Imagination?


2.3.10 - If adopted, the proposed common-core standards for writing will kill the spirit that produces great literature and nonfiction, Edgar H. Schuster argues.

The contradictions between the real and imagined worlds that our educational system struggle to serve are many and varied. If there ever was one word to encapsulate that battle, it's definitely be the word STANDARD. That word, in my view, is better suited to describe bathroom plumbing (American Standard, look for it in a restroom near you) than human behavior. So it is that the battle resumes in a recent article by Edgar H. Schuster that we do a great disservice to students by holding them to a set of "standards" that, in effect kill their imagination.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, about killing anything, so this is a battle that I have been on the front lines of throughout my teaching career. I always felt that my saving grace was not to have been an English major. That, and the fact that I intuitively privileged the creative spirit in my approach to teaching. It strikes me as peculiar that some folks are just now getting hip to the fact that the imagination is threatened. A good deal of research shows that there is indeed a huge gap between teaching grammar and its usage. Now I'd be the first person to agree that we have to agree on some basic ideas and that proofreading and re-writing, and "correction" play an important role, but it ability of think freely, to imagine, to play with the language to experiment, if you will, with form and phrase is the real skill.
And then there are the contradictions. Most English teachers come to realize, early on, two huge contradictions. First, most of the reading they are asking their students to do is fiction, and most of the writing they assign is non-fiction. The fearful term essay plays a big role hear. But the second large paradox, and one often figured out by students first, is that many writers, including many of the great writers violate the "rules" all the time. They know the rhythmic impact of a fragment. They dare to write a paragraph that might only be one or two sentences. (I once knew a teacher who taught that all paragraphs had 5 sentences, a lot of reading she did, huh?)
So the match race between structure/form and voice continues. I think its possible for both to cross the finish line together. As one of my mentors likes to say, "If you want to write well read good writers." For my money, the best writing comes from an uninhibited imagination.
Of course there is another dimension to this war. With increased attempts that amount to a corporate takeover of public schools, only those who can afford to release their imaginations will have the opportunity to do so. There is "something happening here" and I think it IS exactly clear. Just imagine (pun intended) if only those who take control of their own education will be the only ones to develop their imaginations. That means the only ones free to play with the language and live in a world devoid of 5 paragraph essays. Gosh, why ever would any educator want the public schools to be depositories where young people aren't taught to think and dream, to critique and wonder, to feel comfortable and part of a larger community of writers who think and care deeply about issues and each other?
Your answer please...

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