Imagination Should Not Be an Elective Subject

As a teacher of Creative Writing, I often feel like I’m not contributing much. Though it is part of the English department, Creative Writing is an elective course. There is no graduation exam for electives; we are “none of the above” subjects, whose only purpose at times seems to be supporting the “real” subjects – math, science, social studies, English. We are kept around to fill holes in students’ schedules and give them something fun to do when they’re not cramming their brains with math and science.

That’s about the way I saw it too, when I began. But in the three semesters that I’ve taught this class, I have come to believe that Creative Writing could be the most important class that students take. They have been so well ‘schooled’ that they are badly educated. Since the age of five, they’ve been learning not to write down an answer unless they’re sure it’s correct, to follow directions, and do things the right way. Socially, they’ve learned that the goal of school is to fit in, not be different. Certainly not to be creative. Except for a few rebels, they don’t know how to have ideas.

And yet, without new ideas there is no progress – or even survival.

Can people be taught to have ideas? Can creativity be learned? If it can, it won’t be from fill-in-the-bubble tests. The notion that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for every question is what our children are learning right now.

But there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to write a poem or a story. More

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Sweet Spot

spiral notebook and pencilIt’s the first week of my second semester creative writing class, and I’m getting to know my new students.

Half of them have no idea why they’re in this class. They needed an elective and my class needed students. There are twenty-four of them, slightly suspicious, worried about how much work it will be, hoping it will be fun and not too hard. A few did not know what ‘creative writing’ meant, thought it just meant longer essays.

The other half see themselves as poets or the author of the next vampire novel that will monopolize the NYT Bestseller List for weeks. They love to write, and show up on the first day with notebooks full of their writing to show me.

There is a place on the continuum between boredom (under-challenge) and frustration (overchallenge) where they will work their hearts out and actually learn something. I am aiming at that spot. More

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