Writing prompts are what is destroying American education. Sure, you could make the argument that standardized testing, abysmally low pay for teachers, or the lack of parental-involvement is the actual cause of the deplorable state of America’s educational system. But all of those are hypothesizes, and the writing prompts are real.
The theory behind the practice of writing prompts is that if children are lead by the nose to copy good ideas – be it grammar, arguments, or deep thoughts – they can become connoisseurs of good ideas. At this time of year, teachers across the country are forcing children to write essays, poems, and free form word-play with the prompt “I have a dream.” Teachers, and the public, hope that exposure to the idea of having dreams will teach children to dream of a better of future. Then, having imagined a future better than their present, they’ll work hard to create it. I know because I had one of those teachers.
Miss Sekeras was nice. She was creative and fun. But she fell into the trap of thinking that if you teach people to emulate great thinkers, you can turn them into great thinkers. She would force us to write prompt after prompt – each for a different reason and in a different style. But what I learned from her is that if you follow directions, even ones which result in a nonsensical and insensible paragraph, you’ve won.
Rather than forcing us to copy writing prompts of thinkers like Martin Luther King, Jr., our teachers would do better to tell us what they did – their failures as well as successes. King dreamed of a day when all Americans would have freedom from oppression and poverty – as well as racism. His goals were greater than having children of all races take the same bus to the same school, which is why is told the world of his dreams at an event he titled the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs. He didn’t want the march to be another rally at the capital, but rather a cataclysmic event which would reshape society and bring prosperity to the whole country. Today, as the economy continues to recover and the battle against senseless hatred and inbred prejudice is ongoing, King’s dreams have yet to be realized.
I am no expert on social movements. I can’t say where this onslaught of change weakened to a whisper. But I know that forcing children to copy what their teachers have written, rather than giving them the knowledge to have their own ideas and build those into something greater – perhaps into something beyond what the teacher dreamed – is not the way to make it right. First we must end writing prompts, and then we need to teach children how to think again. We must educate them about the struggles that have come before them, their cost in dignity and lives, and where they went wrong as well as what they did right. Maybe we can start here. But no matter where it starts, such change cannot end there. Because only once the children leave the classrooms can change begin and the future be made a better place than the present. Then, I dream, freedom will ring – from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, the mighty mountains of New York, the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, smoke-capped Rockies of Colorado, the curvaceous slopes of California, and every place in between.
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day