Friday, September 01, 2006

If you want to learn to write, read great writing

Pulitzer-prize winning writer and journalism professor Michael Skube has the solution for what he sees as a dearth of strong writers in today's schools: read great writing. He explores this idea in an excellent article in The Los Angeles Times.

Skube bemoans the language arts programs in many schools, which he believes have raised creative writing "to a status that supersedes modest craftsmanship and even waives the requirements of mere competence."
"[I]n the middle schools and even elementary schools, students scribble away in journals, write skits and sketches, labor over sentences littered with misspelled words (this is called "creative spelling") and faulty grammar. The aim is not competency in the plain carpentry of prose but self-expression and creativity. It is the Little League of Art. Nothing wrong with self-expression. But it's worth asking when self-expression devolves into self-spelunking and the preening narcissism evident everywhere on the Internet....Ask them to write straightforward English and you would think it was a second language, even for kids whose ancestors have been here generations. Sentence structure, punctuation, the parts of speech — they are almost completely unfamiliar with any of it."

Skube posits that reading the works of great writers is the best way to learn the elements of great writing -- the cadence, the impact of carefully chosen words, the way authors craft sentences together.

It makes you wonder: are our kids reading the kind of writing that takes away the breath, that demonstrates the power of precise, finely crafted prose? If we value good writing (think back to our discussion of standards), then maybe it's time to revisit the subject of reading and make sure we're offering our students the best examples upon which to build their own writing skills.
After all, it could be true, as Skube believes, that " learn to write well by reading good writing. And by emulating. It's not too late to start."

Related News: According to this article in The Times of London, a new service from Google now allows users to search, download and print entire texts of classic books, including the complete works of Shakespeare, Dante's Inferno, and boat-loads of other classics. I tried out a few searches on it, and it's pretty fantastic.


Post a Comment

<< Home