Board of education chair Richard Franklin. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Celebrate the ‘clause cause’ of writing skills

At the beginning of board of education meetings, chairperson Richard Franklin opens with a bit of an essay to provoke thought. Last month, he outlined the need to do more to create literate students, beyond their reading skills.

“Teaching our students to write is one of our fundamental tasks,” he said.

Franklin pointed out how the modern world is creating more text than ever.

“Those that have the ability to speak and write powerfully and convincingly will have the greatest impact as we move forward,” he said.

It’s heartening to hear this when we are constantly told about the need for “new economy” skills. I’ve wondered to what degree the old skills might be falling by the wayside.

In his remarks, Franklin also referred to local results showing the need to help students become more powerful writers – to aim for quality work beyond competence.

I recall working several years back with a young reporter that had trouble getting her ideas on the page. At one point I started talking about clauses, and it became clear she had no clue. Already a bit of a nervous type, she started huffing and puffing, telling me she wasn’t “good at grammar.” Sigh.

I pointed out to her that clauses weren’t so much about grammar, i.e., the nuts and bolts of writing, but rather composition, or how you express ideas through writing. Maybe another way to think of it is composition is the sentence’s architecture while grammar is the engineering, though nobody plummets to their death if a sentence falls apart, or at least I don’t think so. Maybe that’s why some people don’t take it more seriously.

What she did not know was not her fault though in light of her going through high school and a post-secondary journalism program without ever crossing paths with this concept of basic composition.

I could relate. I was lucky to have some fine English and composition teachers for grades 11 and 12. However, my Grade 10 teacher was a waste of time. (My oldest sister, as a student teacher, had this same fellow as a practicum advisor, and one of the other English teachers told her to ignore everything he told her.) I could point out how he’d take off in class every day and leave me to answer my fellow students’ grammar questions, or how he said A Clockwork Orange was the movie version of 1984. However, his true pedagogical incompetence hit me when I took a district-wide English test at year’s end, and sure enough there were questions pertaining to clauses. Ignorant, I froze, but I made my way through by deciphering the context – all while cursing Mr. _ _ _ _ under my breath.

I wonder how many more kids have had this experience.

In his recent remarks, Franklin did cite local efforts each year in which teachers work with students on pieces to take to them to the publishing stage.

I know not every student will end up writing for a living, but such work will help them in a chosen career and in life.

Once again, I’m glad the skill of writing has strong backing at the board level, so that some kid doesn’t end up slipping through Grade 10, or even beyond, without learning the fundamentals of the craft of writing.

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