Jessica at BookEnds posted a great article on Editors and what it is exactly they do. Part of the conversation wound around to the argument that they spend too much time in school teaching grammar and sentence diagramming but fail to teach students how to write – to a rousing bit of agreement by the readers. While I see the point, I have to respectfully disagree.
They do teach writing skills in grade school and high school. What they teach is academic writing, and while discussing the failings of the public school system in preparing young minds is too lengthy a subject for this particular post – I’d just like to diverge for one minute to say, the information is there, the responsibility falls on the parent to make certain their children take advantage of the education... sorry folks, I know it’s easy to blame a failing system. The truth of the matter is, without parental involvement all but the heartiest students will fall short of their potential... this is true whether you want to believe it or not. Some schools are better equipped with better curriculum, but the key factor in success is a parent who not only shows their child that they feel education is important but takes any steps necessary to make certain their child stays challenged, involved, and stimulated... and, no, I’m not a teacher.
Okay, enough of the side rants. The question is whether high school teaches writing... yes, it does. They teach academic writing, which is imperative for anyone who wants to write a concise essay, business letter, or any type of correspondence with any sort of intelligence. Essentially, the high school focuses on writing skills that everyone needs to excel in their future – not fiction writing, which only a small population needs to excel. What’s the difference between academic writing and fiction writing? Ask any editor and they can tell you rather quickly.
Academic writing is largely passive. It’s useful in every area, from higher academic course work to business affairs and, by the way, is also imperative for the fiction writers among us who do need professional business skills in order to sell their creative prose in the publishing market place. Fiction writing, on the other hand, is largely active. Fiction writing’s focus is on telling the story, evoking the scene and emotions in a realistic way, and compelling your reader to experience both the characters and the action. It is a special writing skill and it is not taught in normal coursework largely because it is not needed for the majority of the students – though it would make a fabulous elective... My high school had creative writing, which was similar to fiction writing in that the grammar rules weren’t the focus. It was a wonderful class, but it wasn’t so much a teaching of fiction writing but the teacher did encourage my reading and use of dialect in stories, which, of course, is frowned on in academic writing.
Here’s my take on what’s being taught in high school. Academic writing is necessary for anyone who wishes to pursue higher education or a professional life. Fiction writing is not. If taught, it should be taught as an elective, and I think that would be a fabulous outlet that I would definitely have taken advantage of... but artwork, fiction writing, music, while valuable and worthwhile classes for the future artists who will take them will not serve to help the students who don’t want to learn them... Remember high school? How many kids took your art class as a blow off? About half of my art classes, and it was annoying to those of us who really took it seriously.
Okay, so that’s my take. No, most students don’t learn fiction writing in high school, unless they are learning it outside of school. But fiction writing is both a craft and an art form and, if you study artists you’ll find that most of them enhance their craft in a multitude of places, but never exclusively from any class or school.