Schools Should Teach Bad Writing


"Writing doesn't always have to know where it's going. Yes, yes, in school we are taught to march our thoughts in nice orderly rows— as though that's the way they occur to us. As if that's the way we really think. The writing we learn in school— in most schools — is a stripped down, chromeless, noncustomized prose," says Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life

She continues, "Writing like that — 'good' writing — is like watching a movie we've seen before. We can admire the craft, but none of the outcomes chills us to the marrow, moves us to tears, or causes us to gasp with recognition. Sometimes it takes 'bad' writing to do that."

I admit, here in my home school, I only teach bad writing. Which is to say I don't teach writing at all. I just let my girls say what they want to say, when they want to say it. For a while I wasn't sure about this method; I let my kids verbally "play story" for hours. I let them listen to or read a few novels a day. Now, at ages 10 and 12, notebooks are bursting, papers floating 'round the house. With stuff like the poem below. And I'm happy I never forced them to march their thoughts in rows.


On a planet far away
on a world with twenty suns
lived a girl with electric hair
and in a sea a neon bear

over all the ice and snow
bone sleds pulled by purple dogs
lives a man with a flying hat
and a rainbow colored mat

in a city made of glass
lives a kind of dragonfly
that are so big the people ride
up in the sky the camouflage hides

and on the moving copper clouds
sit the ones, the flying creatures
with a crown of frozen lightning
folded back the ivory wings

on a planet far away
millions of years ago one day.

— by Sara, 12

Alternacreatures drawings by Sara B. Used with permission.

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Blogger Glynn said...

Love the poem. There's more than one poet in the house,huh?

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I'd love to teach writing that way...I'd probably be run out of my school on a rail if I did! But, just maybe, if I put some thought into it, I can work in some bad writing this coming year.

P.S. - We are considering homeschooling 3 year old...any suggestions on materials?

4:56 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I LOVE the drawing, too! When I get to heaven and meet my flying horse (God and I have talked about this ;) ), maybe it can have a tail like that, too!

6:04 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Glynn, thanks. I think it's the luxury of time and a whole lot of reading.

Eric, I was talking with a friend about teaching writing in unorthodox ways. Offering a subject, for instance and then having kids build something, or show it through a math problem, play it through a rhythm, or act it silently with their bodies... all forms of composition really. Play loosens and expands the thoughts. Much more than confining oneself to pen and paper. What do you teach in the schools, btw? As for homeschooling, I'd read the range of materials from Classical philosophies to Unschooling. I do a mix of both.

Sarah, so glad you noticed the drawing. I love the way my girl conceives of the world. Maybe you'll get that horse someday, huh? :)

8:58 PM  
Blogger deb said...

what an honour to read this
thank her for sharing such talent

11:54 AM  
Blogger Joelle said...

Whoa. Favorite image: "crowns of frozen lightning." Read a pretty good book (as teacher education texts go) on grammar: Breaking the Rules. Talks about providing freedom in the writers workshop setting to write what works rather than what is correct. You've obviously done a brilliant job of not-teaching your girls writing. Bravo!!!! Makes me think of a singer/song writer Regina Spektor (probably too mature for your young ladies, but with totally unique, wildly creative lyrics and music), a New Yorker.

7:33 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Deb, thanks. It's such a joy for me to now be blessed by her words!

Joelle, what an encouragement you are. I'll look into that book. And I blipped the singer; she's pretty cool, yes. (do you know what 'blipping' is? :)

8:12 PM  
Blogger Marcus Goodyear said...

I agree with what you're saying about "bad writing." You can teach form, but you can't teach heart. Form without heart is unredeemable. But heart without form just needs a good editor.

As for me, I'm smitten by the bone sleds and the purple dogs!

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Great site you have here! I'm learning a lot! I have a blog as well, one that offers inspiration and wisdom. I was wondering if we could exchange links, let me know what you think!


4:34 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

i can imagine her lying on a piece of grass, staring up at clouds, wondering what heaven is going to be like...

5:24 AM  
Blogger Joelle said...

No, L.L., I don't know what "blipping" is. Care to enlighten this technologically unsavvy youngster?

10:42 AM  

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