The new season of WriteGirl has begun. That realization prompted me to think about my first Mentee, now in her second year of college. Does she think back about her experience as a Mentee? Did the exercises we shared, worked on then discussed help her in making the transition from High School to College? Then my thoughts migrated to my current Mentee, a talented, creative, unfocused, frustrating, charming, lazy, serious and silly high school sophomore. How, I wondered, do I keep her interested and challenged during her second year with me, with WriteGirl.
WriteGirl’s mission is to get the enrolled girls to write from their heart in their own voice. The workshops go through an inordinate amount of pre-planning to avoid any duplication of past activities – difficult given WriteGirl has been doing Poetry, Fiction, Song Writing, Memoir and Journalism workshops (to name just a few) for 10 years! – hoping the girls will feel fresh motivation. The goal of each workshop activity is to have the girls think about writing in a new and original way, to find inspiration, to be given the freedom to write whatever they choose.
But the workshop are just once a month and even the one on one meetings with Mentees are, at best, just once a week whereas five days a week these same girls are being told to write in a predictable, easy to grade rubric that follows a pre-set formula. I understand why schools need to impose the straitjacket of uniformity. Teachers have too little time to deal with original styles and their job is not to turn out writers but to turn out individuals who can craft a clear and concise memo or email or, for the college bound, term paper.
The rub comes when students who can craft an unambiguous, dull sentence are told their college application essays must wow, must stand out, must provide a window into their heart so the colleges will know who they are – in other words must be written in their own unique voice. When exactly were these students supposed to have learned to do that? For those who have been part of extracurricular activities, like WriteGirl, the U-turn is somewhat easier but what about everyone else?
Then, once enrolled in college, these students who have been admitted based on soaring prose and originality are once again told to write in the familiar, clear, unambiguous style for all their essays and papers. Where is the sense in that?
Maybe, by the time my current Mentee has to deal with it, the whole application process will be changed. If not, at least I can try to help with the schizophrenic ordeal.