I have finally caught up with this fine podcast from the Locus Roundtable in which Theodora Goss, Eileen Gunn, Cecelia Holland, and Paul Park talk to Karen Burnham about teaching writing. As people were noting on Twitter, it is particularly interesting about writing non-fiction. Personally I have always thought what they say to be self-evident, but I can quite see how the ability to write engagingly is drummed out of people in school, and indeed much later in life. When I first started working as a consultant it took me quite a while to get used to the fact that a consultancy report was neither a lab report nor interesting writing.
However, it is not just the ability to write engagingly that Karen’s guests take aim at. They also complain about how school kids are taught to pass exams rather than taught to think. As someone who was thoroughly put off literary criticism in school by the total ban my teachers imposed on actually engaging with the texts, I can emphasize with this.
Again, it is not just writing where this happens. Only yesterday Tim Anderson was complaining about how useless computing qualifications are. They don’t teach you how to program, they teach you how to pass exams that get you computing qualifications.
People get used to this way of thinking, and carry it on into later life. These days I’m self-employed because I’m pretty much unemployable, especially in the UK. However, I have always preferred working in small companies. That’s because in a big company so many of the employees are not at all focused on doing their jobs, they are just focused on what they need to do in order to get on in the company.
You can of course argue that I am being deeply naive here, and that I’m just running away from the way that the world really works. But conforming to expectations — always doing what you think people most want you to do — is no way to be creative, in art or in business.