Saturday, October 12, 2013

THIS ANGERS ME: The Advocacy of Sensationalism Over Integrity

One of my private writing students was assigned by his high school English teacher to write a personal narrative about a challenging event in his life. He wrote about almost winning an academic team competiton, and I helped guide his recounting of the event. He used vivid descriptions, authentic dialogue, and showed the excitement and tension that he and his team experienced, even though he did overwrite a bit. According to the rubric used by his school teacher for grading, I would have given him a score of B+. But his school teacher gave him a C- because "winning a competition is not enough of a problem." The teacher said he was looking for a stronger, more dramatic climax, something "more compelling."

But this event WAS dramatic to this sheltered 13-year-old, and he was graded not on his writing, but on his lack of depth of experience! His teacher suggested that he rewrite the story and add some bigger problem; and when our mutual student pointed out that such a revision would mean fictionalizing his memoir, the teacher told him that he didn't have to make things up, just "embellish." Such embellishment of so-called memoirs is what discredited famous "NONFICTION" books like A Million Little Pieces and Three Cups of Tea. I am profoundly disappointed by the mixed message given to my student in his school.

We do not need to raise more tabloid-level journalists or phony college-essay-writers who make up personal tragedies that end up securing "sympathy admissions" to colleges. If you ask someone to write about his life, judge his writing, not his life. Lying is for fiction--and rightly so.