Provocative level (on a scale of 1 to 10): 9.7
It’s 4:00 in the morning and I should be preparing for my presentations today, here in the beautiful Farmington, Connecticut. But it wasn’t today’s topics that woke me. It was and issue that has been a frequent irritant in my mind, one that I have mentioned out loud to only a few people and only during certain conversations.
You see, there is a part of me that wants to believe in the competence and wisdom of my government, that its intentions are for the common good of all people. Yet it continues to nag at me why writing was left out — conspicuously left out — of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. Our nervousness about blogging in the classroom has brought this issue back to the forefront of my thinking, and I simply have to scratch this itch.
There are three Rs in our traditional notions of the basic skills, Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. Yet NCLB made almost no mention of writing, as a basic skill, as it emphasized, at the expense of all other disciplines, reading and math, and most recently science. Writing seems less important.
The pragmatic part of me says that it was because writing is hard to assess. It’s messy assessment. It’s expensive and difficult to automate (bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble).
But there is a more cynical side of me that, quite frankly, seems to gain in justification nearly every day.
Reading is important. People can’t follow directions without being able to read. Arithmetic is important, because we need to be able to work our stuff. And since our stuff is described primarily with numbers, we need to be able to work the math to add value to our stuff, and make money.
Writing, however, is mostly a civil skill, and empowering people with the ability to compellingly express their ideas seems to make us nervous. There’s a lot about it that makes me nervous. It’s why I keep hammering at teaching critical thinking skills and insisting that information ethics be an explicit part of our definition of literacy. But could it be that we are afraid of a population that can express itself.
Please convince me that I am wrong, that education is about more than just making robots.