The local middle school holds a career day for its students every spring. Because I have some of the same kids year after year, I try to come up with a new viewpoint for each presentation. This year, I focused on writers who are making a good living but whose names are not in the public spotlight. It turns out, that was a good move. Only one student mentioned JK Rowling. Last year, she was the role model for at least ten of them.
I put six names on the board – three men and three women. They included a screenplay writer, the head writer for a video game, a lyricist, and the writer of a famous ad campaign. I talked about all the ways a person can make a career from writing.
The kids had not considered this. In their minds, writers do one of two things: writers are journalists or writers are novelists.
From conversations with coworkers, I know that writing is not a focal point of modern education. Students do not spend a semester diagramming sentences or learning about past participles. The lack of understanding about how their own language works is causing problems. What surprised me was that the kids said as much. They told me that they are sometimes confused by their friends’ Facebook postings or things they read in class. They complained about poorly constructed sentences and words that don’t mean what the writer intended.
And guess what – most of the kids wished they liked to read and had the opportunity to do more of it. They realize that reading is as important to their futures as writing.
These kids want to communicate effectively. We do them a terrible disservice if we assume that writing skills are no longer useful. It falls to us to provide them with the tools they require to lead fulfilling lives. Will the kids moan and complain? Sure they will. That’s part of growing up. But it is our job to push them and prepare them for their futures. Let’s make sure they get what they need – and obviously want.