In Chains: Memoirs of a Hopeless Writer

Photo Credit: Blogspot

Photo Credit: Blogspot

Throughout middle and early high school, I felt that I was a strong writer.  I understood the five paragraph formula.  I knew what it meant to create a strong thesis with good supporting ideas.  My transition between thoughts were smooth.  I got As in all my English classes—in some cases, my essay was the best in the entire class.  I was rather proud of my writing.

And then I took AP English Language and Composition.  I earned my first C on a semester report card—ever.  I received 3s and 4s on my writing (out of 10).  It was ludicrous!  Gone were the days of five paragraphs.  No more formulas or stencils to write my ideas around.  Every day was war as I was constantly barraged by essay explications and free response questions.  What is the author’s intent?  What is your intent?  Why is the author repeating these phrases?  Don’t just write statements—write poetry in prose!

After surviving that class, I noticed three things.  My writing greatly matured.  I became more humble in the field of writing.  And I never had another English class afterwards at the same level.  In fact, English from there on simplified in radical manner.

In college, I was no longer asked to write stories but statements.  My beginning paragraphs were no longer lures into the meat of the essay—it was the meat.  Your first sentence should be your thesis statement.  From there on, you fight like hell to defend it.

I gave excuses.  Maybe this was just a style for “academic writing.”  After all, a researcher does not want to dig through a page or more of an essay just to find that the paper is irrelevant—especially when academic writing is so dense.  It makes sense.  Why not.

But then I noticed the rest of the world absorbing the same style.  People didn’t want to read through two paragraphs of a blog just to find out that it’s meaningless to them.  So they made it simple.  They made it straightforward.  If you didn’t get it then, they added images and gifs to make you laugh.  Who doesn’t like to laugh?  It makes sense.  Why… not?

In graduate school, I was taught about Common Core State Standards.  Students were to read periodicals and write expository texts.  Middle and high schoolers were being weaned away from narratives.  After all, what job requires us to write about ourselves?  Enough of Frog and Toad.  Enough of Calvin and Hobbes.  The next generation needs to be ready for the “real world” and read periodicals or books on real people.  It… makes sense.  Why… not…?

From then on, I was absorbed into the culture.  As much as I fought the walls of direct writing and linear transparency, I could not win.  Gone were the days of creative writing.  No more personal expression or tactical word placement to birth ideas.  Every week was plugging the ideas and chugging out the processed and succinct writing.  Information in, consolidated, then out.

To end this on a Common Core approved note, allow me to quote a real person:

Because I am a storyteller I live by words […]  When language is limited, I am thereby diminished too. […]  We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator.  When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles—we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than ‘the way things are.’
—Madeleine L’Engle

About Jonathan Seligman

Jon is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of NWYT. While his main profession is in education/music/history, he has a deep passion for philosophy, theology, ice cream, and everything else that life has to offer. See All of Jon’s Posts

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