The pay off

My son is in middle school and bumping up against a dilemma faced by many writers. How willing should you be to sacrifice your artistic vision for  pay? In this case, the payoff is a grade. We’re finding, sadly, that the writing taught in language arts in our local schools is preparing the students to conform to the formula required on the MAP test (Missouri Assessment Program.)

In my son’s class, they’ve been working on memoir writing. He decided to write about how he came to be obsessed with Lego architecture, something that began with a trip to Chicago, where he discovered a Lego version of the Sears Tower. So far, so good. It’s not a bad choice for an 11-year-old. But he wanted to make his piece stand out. He told me he didn’t want to just write down a list of events. He and I brainstormed for a while and he came up with a pretty original writing plan; he would write a backward memoir.

So he started the piece with the most recent relevant event, then explained how it had been spawned by a previous event and how that had grown out of something that happened before, and so on. Right back to our trip to Chicago. He was pleased with  how well the idea worked and so was I. He had attained his goal of writing something that was interesting and stood out from the rest of the memoirs in the class.

Therein lay the problem. He wasn’t supposed to write something different. He got marked down because the scoring guideline states memoirs are supposed to relate events in the order they happened. Tell that to Dave Eggers. Hmph!

To be fair, the teacher presented things honestly. The students were told what to do to get the best score, and my son did decide to do it a different way. It’s a decision he’ll have to keep making. Does he want to find his own voice to do the best writing he can, or does he want the grade? In a way, the fact that Language Arts is not his favorite subject might make it easier for him to choose the higher grade. He’s a lot more passionate about science. On the other hand, he might have inherited enough of my personality to figure it’s worth sacrificing a grade in order to make a statement.

It’ll be interesting to see him choose his path.

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