When I recently heard the Louisiana School Board vote to hire a person to instruct the elementary school teachers how to teach writing next year, I was pretty floored to be honest.
Prior to joining the unanimous vote, board members Tony Gschwender and Lori Helkey said Louisiana students’ ability to write was far from where it should be.
Overall, it’s my opinion the R-II district is doing a good job preparing our students for life and higher education. For the past few years, teachers and administration have concentrated on better reading and math skills and our students have benefitted from it.
I don’t fault the current faculty or administration for this poor writing situation either. This has come slowly over the last 40 years or so as philosophies in education changed along with the social fabric.
Many of the education “reforms” that began in the 1970s simply didn’t work. The old “three Rs” of “reading and writing and ‘rithmetic,” were cast to the wind by many.
Conversely, there have been improvements in education during the same period.
Special needs students are finally being mainstreamed and educated. Vocational education has increased in importance, a reflection of today’s work force needs.
There has also been a recognition that all students don’t learn in the same manner. So not all the changes have been negative.
But when I heard school officials say the mechanics of writing have not been taught in concert with reading and grammar for years, I realized that a fundamental formula of American schooling had been lost.
Reading, writing and grammar need to be taught all together at once. They all reinforce each other and fulfill the larger picture of literacy.
I didn’t understand why I had to diagram sentences when I was a kid. I didn’t enjoy learning about past participles. Taking Latin in junior high was sheer torture.
What I do know is that all those things made me a writer, thank God, because I can’t do anything else.
A large part of it is the way I’m wired and the fact that I loved to read early on.
But I also realize the Kirkwood schools had a lot to do with my path in life. Not everybody in the Class of 1969 became a writer, but they know how to craft a paragraph because our teachers understood the importance of it.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate how meaningful it is to be taught fundamental writing skills.
I have a friend who is a high school English teacher and we graduated from Kirkwood High together.
When Debby went to Mizzou, she was enrolled in freshman English-composition like everybody else.
It was a flunk-out course at the time, designed to weed out the Baby Boomers who had exploded the size of the student body and frankly, couldn’t be handled for the sheer numbers.
When Debby went to pick up her second paper of the year from the professor, a poignant conversation ensued.
As Debby reached for her theme, the professor said, “So which is it, Kirkwood or Webster?”
Debby was a bit taken back and said she didn’t quite understand the question.
So the professor said, “Which high school did you go to, Kirkwood or Webster?”
“Kirkwood,” Debby blurted.
“I knew it,” the professor said. “I can always tell. The kids from those two schools know how to write.”
I fully understand that rural schools don’t have the tax base to teach Latin or provide the things that rich schools like Kirkwood and Webster Groves still have today. I fully realize how fortunate I was to be exposed to all of that.
But I also know one important thing.
Writing is an essential part of communication that cannot be ignored. I’m glad the Louisiana school district has taken note.