Image from Disney's Aladdin
This week's readings both got me thinking, but in very different ways, about the place of creative writing in an academic environment that seems to become more and more hostile toward humanistic learning with each passing year. As can be seen in my annotations, the studies outlined in Addison and Gee's "Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions" made me angry, some of them for their results, and some of them for their content. I was particularly incensed by the table on page 156, which showed just how few creative writing activities were assigned in high school and college. Less creative writing activities than lab reports, for Pete's sake! In my annotation, I try to understand the logic behind this lack of opportunities to write creatively in school; my main hypothesis is that administrators don't see the value in creative writing when compared to more "academic" forms of writing. With that in mind as I read Amicucci's "How They Really Talk," I was able to see a lot of parallels between digital literacy and what I'm going to call "creative literacy."
Without having done any kind of study or extensive research, I can only draw on my personal experiences in high school to inform what I'm going to assert. So keep that in mind, and take my words with a grain of salt. I think downplaying creative writing in writing classes is forcing the same kind of "code-switching" as not acknowledging chatspeak. Aside from the type of writing done for instant messaging and social media, creative writing is probably the type of writing students engage with most outside of school. I know that was the case with me. I wrote a lot more outside of school than inside of school during my high school years. I can honestly say that I hated my expository writing course. And I think I even failed an elective writing course my senior year. I constantly wrote creatively in my free time during those years, though, and it is that kind of writing that got me hooked on the craft. Yes, there were exceptions. Great teachers made my freshman English course enjoyable, and my Honors Imaginative Process course was one of the highlights of my entire high school career. Generally, however, High School Katherine loved writing DESPITE her writing classes, not BECAUSE of them.
I'm positive that's not what teachers of writing want to hear, but I'm pretty sure it's the case for a lot more people than we'd like to admit. Perhaps by bringing more creative writing into high school writing classes, we can allow a sort of "genre code-meshing." High school students don't have a writer identity developed enough to realize that if they get a bad mark on one kind of writing, they might still be an amazing writer in another genre. For most of them, their sense of being or not being a writer is tied directly to what grade is written on their essays. What about the kid who's reamed out for taking up half a science paper on a poetic description of an oak leaf's veins? Sure, Johnny Oakleaf may not be a science writer, and he may need to learn a hell of a lot more about organization, structure, and audience, but Johnny's clearly demonstrating an enthusiasm and aptitude for nature writing or poetry. If we only assign research papers or lab reports, though, all Johnny is going to learn is that he's a bad writer. He gets Fs on all his papers; that clearly means he's a bad writer, right? And if Johnny thinks he's a bad writer, then he's probably going to have low self-efficacy, and he's not going to want to learn how to improve his organization, etc. You see the cycle? The same thing could be said of a student who can't limerick her way out of a paper bag, but can give you the most cogent, detailed science report you'd ever ask for. The difference is that Susie Science is going to be validated for her report-writing, whereas Johnny Oakleaf won't get the opportunity for validation. Why? Because creative writing isn't included widely enough in the teaching of writing for adults and adolescents. Because stories and poems are somehow less valuable, or more childish? If we're having serious discussions about how to bridge the gap between extracurricular social media writing and academic writing, then why can't we have the same kind of discussion about bridging the gap between extracurricular creative writing and academic writing? It would have the same sort of benefits for another chunk of the student population.