On Teaching Writing

It’s 3:05 on a Thursday.  I’m sitting in my classroom, asking students to join me in putting their thoughts on the page. This is old stuff to me.  I do it constantly, dribbling out these lines that seem to come magically from the pen and form themselves on the page into what we call sentences, made up of words, phonemes, syllables, letters. And the letters themselves were once ideograms—images, as in Chinese writing—that depicted the thing itself. Now we need a more elaborate process to discover the meaning in the letters.  We need to attend schools for years, be encouraged to spill out our minds and give them structure on the page, as if we are brain surgeons cleaning up after the mess of a head-on collision.

But where am I going with this mess, this tangle of letters and lines, interweaving and incestuously delivering me of these infant ideas?  I’m heading towards the mystery of writing and thinking itself, and how complicated it has become.  At one time we were much simpler beings and could communicate with each other in more direct ways.  A letter in the alphabet might resemble a tree, an animal.  We could draw a symbol and point.  Maybe grunt.  The transaction was complete.  A few gestures, some sounds.

But now I sit in a California classroom trying to help students free up their minds so they can make shapely forms on the page that have some meaning.  Not just squiggly lines that go nowhere, but elegant, graceful panthers, growling and preening, opening the way into the wilds where who knows what awaits.m

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