Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why Children Need to Learn How to Write

It is the written word that has changed the world. Revolutions go hand-in-hand with words, dreams frozen in print, melted again by passion, bursting to life in inflamed hearts.

In my opinion the ability to write is one of the most important skills that any young person can develop. I suppose I’m biased, since I am a writer and make my living through putting words on paper.

It’s hard to believe that a hundred twenty years ago nearly ninety percent of our population made its living off the land. For the most part we were a rural economy. But the industrial revolution was in full swing, and in the early part of this century an entire generation was lured away from the land to the meat packing plants, steel mills, and manufacturing facilities that sprang up in big cities everywhere.

My great grandfather scratched out his living on a mountainside in east central Kentucky. He could neither read nor write. In fact, few of my Kentucky kin from the nineteenth century could put pen to paper other than to make an ‘x’, which someone else would note was "his mark."

When my grandfather eloped with grandma in 1923, it wasn't until after they were wed that she learned he was illiterate. Her first task was to teach him enough reading and writing so as to be able to fill out a job application. She had been a school teacher and knew all too well that reading and writing were basic skills essential to advancement in our changing world.

What was true then is even more true today. The ability, or lack of ability, to communicate in words will either open or shut doors of opportunity. We live in the Information Age.

When you think about it, the written word is everywhere. There are a lot of people today directly making a living putting words on paper. Journalists, screen writers, broadcast writers, advertising copy writers, technical writers, lawyers, legislators and magazine editors just to name a few. But there are countless more careers which require written communication skills.

There is nothing significant built without a written plan today. Patents for ideas require legal documents. The abstract for your house is a fascinating written record of the history of your property. Marketing plans, business plans, documents for making loans or borrowing money, instructions for software programs or bicycle assembly -- all require the written word.

The written word is an indispensable part of our lives, even in our diversions. We read novels, stories, comics, jokes, cereal boxes, newspapers, email, all kinds of newsletters and even an occasional blog entry.

Apart from the career opportunities it provides, writing can also be a valuable tool for personal growth and self understanding. I often find myself quoting Martin Luther's advice* to his barber: "The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory." If you have had an experience that made a profound impact on your life, write it down. A new insight? Write it down. My brother once shared with me a profound revelation which he had gained while in a therapy group. Several years later I shared with him how that insight continued to move me, because I had recorded it and from time to time re-read it. Funny thing is that he had forgotten it completely!

Teaching our children to write may well be the most important skill we can give them as we prepare them for life. Maybe one of our own children will write the next Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, or a Nobel prize winning novel. Or maybe not. I can say with confidence that the better their writing skills, the more prepared they will be for whatever paths they explore in life.

*I have since read alternate attributions for this quote.


LEWagner said...

*I have since read alternate attributions for this quote.

It's on the first page of the Introduction to the great book, "And There Shall Be Wars".

ENNYMAN said...

And the bok is still available at Savage Press!