Is Writing “Critical”?

For the second time in less than a decade, Illinois is eliminating the state writing exam for elementary and junior high students, provoking concerns that writing instruction will taper off and fewer students will master the critical skill.–Reporter Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, 7.18.10

Is writing really “critical”?  By this point don’t most people, if not almost all, look at “good writing” as something not to be trusted?  Something almost nefarious?  One of those “gifts” worthy of distrust similar to how griots are treated in West Africa?*

Evidence abounds, and since you and I are on the Internet at present, let’s use media report “comments” as an example. Ridiculed by some/many, I think it’s important to note that these commenters are the ones who are at least trying. They’ve put down their Jack Daniels and Coke and “expressed” themselves.  These are today’s “writers” relatively speaking.

And before you start spouting truisms like “these people are idiots”, let me point out two things:

  1. The level of writing craft in your average media report comment reflects the quality of writing today (as well as logic, critical reasoning, etc.),  and is not an aberration.
  2. At the same time, commenters who try to surpass the general poor level of writing/thinking are almost always mocked and derided for their attempt at decent writing.

In sum…”writers” are seen as show-offs and con men.  So why should taxpayers shell out good money to find out which kids are better show-offs and con men?  I mean writing isn’t quite as irritating as being around folks who can spell or do algebra, but it’s damn close.

So hats off to Illinois.  Besides, as the Chicago Tribune story goes on to write:

A writing exam is not required under federal education law that focuses on testing students in reading and math — a point made by State School Superintendent Christopher Koch in a weekly message published last week.  Koch also noted that the state gets no federal money in connection with the writing exam.

Let’s face it…writing doesn’t pay the bills.  Ain’t that the truth.

P.S.: I like to imagine an Internet of the 1850s, in which media report comments feature the flowery prose and tortuous insults of that time.  Charles Dickens would have been a great internet commenter.  Moving up a bit in history, Oscar Wilde as a blogger/tweeter?

*Sorry I can’t find a more coherent source, but here’s a quote of a quote of a webpage quote:

“As Curt Sachs has noted, ‘they (griots) importune the rich with either glorification or insults depending on whether their victims are open-handed or stingy. They often roam from village to village in gangs of about a dozen under a chief who is at the same time a seasoned historian and genealogist and knows to the last details the alliances, hostilities and conflicts that unite or oppose the families and villages of the country.’ This puts the griots in a position of some power; they blackmail their listeners with their ridicule and are feared and despised for it, while being admired for their skill. The attitude of their audiences is ambivalent, for while they fear being the butt of their humour they want to hear the gossip and news they purvey, and listen to their music.”


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