Teaching Kids to Write25 Feb 2002 / Hostile Witness
Having students write essays about books accomplishes three things. It makes them hate writing, because it’s such a fruitless, uninteresting assignment. It makes them hate reading, because even books they enjoy are turned against them. And it probably makes them hate thinking, because the kind of analysis they’re forced to do is so strained and dull.
“I guess that isn’t the right word,” she said. She was used to apologizing for her use of language. She had been encouraged to do a lot of that in school. Most white people in Midland City were insecure when they spoke, so they kept their sentences short and their words simple, in order to keep embarrassing mistakes to a minimum. Dwayne certainly did that. Patty certainly did that.
This was because their English teachers would wince and cover their ears and give them flunking grades and so on whenever they failed to speak like English aristocrats before the First World War. Also: they were told that they were unworthy to speak or write their language if they couldn’t love or understand incomprehensible novels and poems and plays about people long ago and far away, such as Ivanhoe . . .
Patty Keene flunked English during the semester when she had to read and appreciate Ivanhoe, which was about men in iron suits and the women who loved them. And she was put in a remedial reading class, where they made her read The Good Earth, which was about Chinamen.