I commented on a post of Bruce's about Francine Prose's new book about a month ago. We both got it as a Christmas gift. I've been making my way through it very slowly as I think Francine would want. This week I copied the following passage (the opening paragraph) into my commonplace book:
Can creative writing be taught?
It's a reasonable enough question, but no matter how often I've been asked it, I never know quite what to say. Because if what people mean is: Can the love of language be taught? Can a gift for storytelling be taught? then the answer is no. which may be why the question is so often asked in a skeptical tone implying that, unlike the multiplication tables or like the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can't be transmitted from teacher to student. Imagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help with Paradise Lost, or Kafka enduring the seminar in which his classmates inform him that, frankly, they just don't believe the part about the guy waking up one morning to find he's a giant bug (1).
I originally copied this paragraph because it says clearly and accurately what I think about teaching writing, although maybe the paragraph could sound a little bleak, I think it actually speaks to the art of the writing, and in that way the necessity of teaching how to read closely and appreciate good writing. But while I was copying phrase by phrase, I started to juxtapose Prose's ideas with what I've been thinking about today (a couple days ago at the time I was drafting): finishing my first semester grades and planning for second semester. At about the line with "multiplication tables and principles of auto mechanics" I started recalling the two meetings I was in today where we're trying to pick texts, essays, short stories, and poems that fit with themes, balance authorial voices by gender and culture, and have books that are both accessible and challenging and likeable. The other image from today that is recurring is the last thing I did before I walked out of my office to hit the gym, I looked over my officemate's shoulder as he was calculating his first semester grades and asked about his formula. All of this while copying the passage made me think, or really cement for me, how hard it is to work with numbers and grades in an English class (not considering the behavioral elements of turning in work on time, being prepared, etc.) I also thought about, and sometime I feel guilty about it, sometimes I feel good about it, how no matter what level, what texts, what thematic focus, all English classes are pretty much the same in design and scope: Read great writing, write a lot, think about how the stories connect you to the human experience.