HS English FAIL: NaNoWriMo/NaBloPoMo day 18

Total word count goal: 50,000

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s word count: 2,011

Today’s blog count: 19

Total words written: 31,534

Total blog posts: 19


I recently volunteered to be a judge for a high school essay contest. The test was for high school juniors and involved an imaginary gift of hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent on the world crisis the writer deemed fit. The writer basically had to explain what he or she would spend the money on, how they would spend it, and why spend it on their choice. Entrants were graded on a scale of 1-5 (1 being the worst) in five areas, including  ability to address the topic, grammar, and clarity of thought.

Of the twelve essays I was assigned to review, I only deemed two worthy enough to pass to the final round.


While reading the essays, I felt like I was served a healthy portion of “Who taught you?”, with side orders of “WTF” and “do better”. Since when did the basic components of writing an essay fall by the wayside, especially given that people are still being funneled into college as a post-graduate goal? Not only were there grammatical errors, but there was a distinct lack of ability in forming coherent thoughts and putting them down on paper. Not to mention, a seeming dearth of following directions (some wrote the essay the way they wanted to, and not how the contest requested it be written). Mind you, I’m all for freedom of expression and creativity but when you’re trying to win a contest, it’s usually best to do as instructed.

I understand that what I learned in my AP English classes almost 25 years ago was vastly different from what schools are teaching today. But come on, now; a few of the essays were written in the same structural style, which indicated to me that their ineptitude was more of a teaching problem.  Which means that these kids are being turned out into the world without a clue of how to really succeed in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic (does anyone even know what “arithmetic” means anymore?)

I weep for the future.

Sometimes, I think that perhaps I should go back to teaching a creative writing course. But I don’t know if I have the patience to undo the hot messes that are being created in the United States public educational system.  Reading those essays confirmed that I was correct in choosing not to teach high school English. Or maybe I should have braved the hazards of public schools and tried to make a difference, like my beloved high school English teacher did for me (she’s retired now, but we still keep in touch!). What she drilled into my head is why I always got compliments on my writing, even just regular papers and essays. It’s why I landed gigs as a highly regarded book reviewer and contributor to three nonfiction anthologies, and why I now have two solo published books to my credit.

Today’s kids don’t have that. And I pity them.

Everyone, enjoy your writing because it is a privilege to be able to do it, and do it well. Don’t take it for granted.

Thanks for stopping by.



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