Why Teach Writing?

At the beginning of each composition course that I teach, I take a little poll. I have students raise their hands to indicate the reason they have taken the class: because they love to write, because they think writing is important, or because the class is required. If I get 4 students who indicate that they love to write, I will consider this cause for celebration. Most of the students seem to think that the class was invented by teachers as some form of torture for them. At least 90% of the class will say they are only in the class because it is required. It seems I am doomed to teach students what I consider vital and exciting and they consider dreadful.

Of course, I think that I am right and they are wrong. So I spend a good part of the semester trying to teach students two things: that they can learn to write and that writing is a vital skill. I never succeed 100% on either count, but I keep trying. I’m stubbornly dedicated to a life of possible futility. When I do succeed, though, I am even more convinced that writing is important.
Students who participate and are actively engaged in the writing class always feel a profound impact. I have had students come back to me to say, “I thought I hated writing, but now that I can do it, I love it,” and “This class changed my life. Writing about things made me really think about who I am.” Students comment, “I got a job because of what I learned in this class,” or “I decided to make a significant change in my life because of what I have written in this class.”
Writing is powerful. Helping students harness this power is amazing. It’s meaningful and gratifying. Writing has this power because it involves the very things that scare students off in the first place: an exploration of personal ideas, a critical view of the world, and in-depth investigation of ideas and assumptions. It’s often personal and it’s hard work. I think it is worth it.

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