Don’t teach kids that they’re stupid

June 19, 2016

The government seems to be unsure of how to educate children nowadays. They seem to think that constantly putting children under pressure is a good way for them to start life.

Everybody is a genius

We should all aim to inspire, whenever we can

Don’t get me wrong, learning to cope with pressure is an important part of any person’s development. But having children learn about things that are completely unnecessary is counterproductive. It harms confidence and can lead to children thinking they’re “not smart”. Everyone is smart – they might just be better at things that don’t involve knowing what a fronted adverbial is.

Yoda Star Wars Education Fronted Adverbials

Yoda channels the force of fronted adverbials

My own daughter is now at secondary school and I’m seeing for myself the sometimes disjointed approach to learning. And it’s tough as a parent to not react to some of the crazy decisions that are made. Don’t get me wrong – there are a huge number of teachers who do a great job. But the government’s ‘test everything to death’ approach surely doesn’t help? I spotted a clarion call against this sort of madness on The Writer website (which is always worth a visit). They looked at the requirements of the SATs that kids sit. And the English test looks like a) a nightmare and b) a bit of a waste of time.

They quite rightly point out that many, many writers (OK, almost all of us) don’t know every granular detail of grammar. They also point out that spelling and grammar are important – they’re the basic fundamentals of how we communicate when we’re writing. But being a good writer is more than knowing the rules. It’s connecting with your audience. Giving them something they’ll be interested in. Writing it in a way that appeals to them. And it’s fun. It really is. (Or it bloody well should be.)

So here’s The Writer’s article, reproduced in full. If you have a child taking SATs you really want to read this. Then give your kid a hug and let them read it too.

 

A letter to primary school children in England

Dear kids,

We’ve heard all about the spelling and grammar test you have to do as part of your SATs. We think it sounds pretty tough.

Not just the test itself, but all the months you’ve spent learning about things like fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases and subordinating conjunctions. We’re willing to bet you wish you’d spent a bit less time doing that, and more time making up funny poems, or writing your own adventure stories.

Well, there’s something we wanted to tell you.

We asked our team of 15 professional writers whether they knew what a fronted adverbial was. How many do you think said ‘yes’?

One. And that’s because she has a daughter in primary school, just like you.

The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Remember, we all earn our living from writing, and helping other people to write better. And we’ve all managed to get this far without the words ‘fronted adverbial’ ever entering our minds.

We did try, honest. We looked up ‘fronted adverbials’ online, and spent a good few minutes frowning and scratching our heads. We couldn’t really understand it, and then we decided not to worry about it anyway, because fronted adverbials make sentences sound a bit weird, like they were written by Yoda from the Star Wars films, and we went off to make a cup of tea instead.

All this isn’t to say spelling and grammar aren’t important

They are. Our writers all know where to put apostrophes, and what semicolons are for.

And we understand how grammar choices can affect how writing comes across to the reader. Like how passive sentences can be unclear or – worse – make it seem like you’re trying to hide something.

But we don’t know what every single little grammar thing is called. And we don’t need to.

Trust us. We’ve helped thousands of grown-ups all over the world get better at writing. And we’re going to tell you the same thing we tell them: it’s okay to sound like yourself when you write.

You don’t need to use long, complicated words to sound important. You don’t need to use fronted adverbials or expanded noun phrases to be a good writer (we think you’ll be a better writer if you don’t). And it doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t recognise a subordinating conjunction if it clonked you over the head.

If you find those things hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at writing.

What makes someone a good writer?

You’re a good writer if you sound like a human being, not a robot. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a story about robots.)

You’re a good writer if you’re kind to your reader: if you don’t write long, boring sentences, or bang on for pages without getting to the point.

You’re a good writer if you have something interesting to say, and you’re not afraid to say it.

You’re a good writer if you make your reader change their mind about something. Or look at something differently. Or do something they might not have done otherwise.

You’re a good writer if you can make your reader feel happy. Or sad. Or indignant. Or motivated. Or reassured.

You’re a good writer if you can keep your reader interested, even if you’re writing about something really boring, like gas pipes, or tax.

You’re a good writer if you can take something really, really complicated, and explain it so simply that your granny could understand it.

And, most importantly, you’ll be a good writer if you enjoy writing, have fun with words and even break the odd rule now and again.

Don’t worry about the test. Really.

Love,

The Writer

 

And to all those who think it’s disgraceful that people don’t know every detail of grammar, I point you in the direction of the genius that was Dr Seuss:

Dr Seuss Cat In The Hat Truer Than True Youer Than You

He was pretty successful and had an astonishing connection with his readers. He made up words, constructed sentences with fun in mind and blew a giant raspberry at dull writing. Long live creativity and writing that sets out to entertain and engage. And, as for teaching primary school children about minute intricacies of grammar, well I’m not at all in favour of it.

Father Ted Down With This Sort of Thing Craggy Island Protest

Careful now

 

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