It’s nice, but is it writing?

I’ve been rereading William F. Irmscher’s 1979 book Teaching Expository Writing. In his chapter  “Lore and Folklore about Writing,” Irmscher takes up the question of whether students should be forced to write.

He says writing shouldn’t be imposed as punishment, but that if writing is important enough to be taught then all students ought to be required to do it.

Irmscher tells the story of an English department teaching assistant who gave students the option of choosing their mode of expression: They could paint, draw, write songs, whatever they chose.

Of the 25 students in the class, only five opted to write.

The TA was fired because the English department believed that in a writing course, students should write.

That experience occurred in the ’70s.

Today, a teaching assistant who allows students to express their ideas in any medium they choose is more likely to be commended than fired.

Unfortunately, many employers haven’t tuned in to the new way of doing things yet.

In many businesses, employers still require—require!—employees to write on an assigned topic.

Not only that, but those employers expect the writing to be done in a specified format.

Those same old fashioned employers think high school graduates should be able to write three paragraphs that stick to the topic, use complete sentences, and employ reasonably correct spelling and grammar.

Although I think the movement to tie teacher pay to student performance is no answer to the problems of education, I can understand why it has strong support among the business community: Employers simply don’t understand how making videos can be considered writing.

Neither do I.