Monday, May 4, 2015


I had the great fortune to hear a lot of excellent testimony last week at the County Council Hearing on the 2016 budget. Yes, you heard that correctly. The meeting began at seven thirty and my turn to speak arrived after nine pm and I am not going to complain about it. (Everyone by now knows I hate meetings.)

I'm a language geek. I love good writing. And the testimony I heard, in addition to informing me about some great things we do in Howard County, was just plain good writing. I can't describe how refreshing it is to hear person after person use words correctly and effectively.
I'm not sure that in, say, ten or twenty years from now, these hearings will be a place to find that kind of good writing. In fact I am pretty sure they won't.
As I watch my younger daughter's education and lament the continued focus on high-stakes standardized testing, it's clear that one of the vital things that is being sacrificed is good writing. There just isn't enough time for it. I'm hoping that there will be more emphasis on it in high school. But, in my opinion, the foundational years have been wasted on teaching to the test.
I see her working to complete assignments that use the new Common Core standards. She is given facsimiles of historical documents to assess and analyze. That's good stuff. But there should have been years of learning how to write well leading up to this moment, and there haven't been. So when it is time to organize and present her ideas, she comes to the task with less facility than she needs to do the job right.
I do not blame teachers. Teachers have no choice but to accomplish mandates imposed upon them from those higher up in the food chain. And my daughter has had many wonderful teachers. No doubt your child has, too. But teachers cannot work miracles when there is barely any time allotted for even a little magic.
I often wondered how I would use some of the things I learned in school when I grew up. Don't we all? But I don't regret one moment of time invested in learning how to write well. After all, as Confucius said,
If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.

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