Does Creative Writing Help Kids Succeed?
Editors' Note: This education dispatch is part of a new ongoing series reported from Mission High School, where youth issues writer Kristina Rizga is known to students as "Miss K." Click here to see all of MoJo's recent education coverage, or follow The Miss K Files on Twitter or with this RSS Feed.
If you want a sneak preview of mainstream California in about 30 years, just visit any classroom at Mission High School in San Francisco and look around. It's like a mini-UN in there. There are 18 students in Tadd Scott's English class on the morning I sit in; only six were born in the US. During introductions, the students tell me where they're from: El Salvador, Mexico, Sudan, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Panama, China, Ukraine, and Russia.
I ask students what makes them want to come to school every day. Sports get the most votes. "Nice people, baseball, my best friend Jasmin, wrestling, football, my history class, English, soccer, basketball..."
One kid, who just transfered to Mission High three days ago, likes that Mission "doesn't have video cameras everywhere like my old school did."
Their English teacher, Mr. Scott, is dressed in a white shirt, tie, and a dark green jacket topped with a purple hat. He tells students in a congested, raspy voice that he is recovering from "something between a cold and an pneumonia." Meg Day, a resident artist from the local WritersCorps chapter, is here to help him lead the class in some writing exercises while he recovers. Day, who has an MFA in poetry from Mills College, writes down these rules on the whiteboard:
"There are no wrong answers."
"The standard is yourself."
"Don't talk, don't stop."
Day warms up the students with two "freewrites." Today's freewrite prompt is "When I grow up..." "Go!" she prompts the students. "Five minutes. Don't talk, don't stop." She claps her hands. The sound of pencil scribbling fills the room.
Meanwhile, Scott shows us the "student portfolio" of a girl I'll call Tina. Tina's thick, black binder is filled with essays, drawings, poems, and research papers. On the portfolio's first page, Scott has written the question: "Tell me one thing you want me to know about you?" Tina's written response: "I hope Harvard will accept me one day." But in today's test-driven education system, are these portfolios really likely to contribute to that goal's achievement?