The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Monday, July 05, 2004

Today was the first occasion in a while that I was called upon to moderate a student's articulate creative writing, and marked it down for being lacking in talent, rather than lacking in accuracy.
So much of my time is taken up with explaining the uses of the apostrophe, the appropriate spellings of they're/there/their, with advocating planning twists to fool examiners into seeing your originality when in a tight spot - we rarely ever touch on natural talent.
This child's writing showed facility with language, but was doggerel. The sort of purple prose one writes when aping great writers without understanding even once that someone has to actually read it.

But how can I mark someone down for something as innate as talent? The thought that raced through my mind was: how could I defend this decision should the child's disappointment escalate? There's only vague, nebulous platitudes in the examining body's criteria for grades. They're far more usefully specific on the missing apostrophe, frankly, or the lack of a compound sentence.

What authority could I call upon to defend my rejection of this descriptive passage, should a couple of unhelpful parents turn up at my class room door? Surely there had to be some discrete statement of worth, some reference to the literary ability of a candidate in the reams of goverment papers sent every week to plague and protect me?


I had only one defence. I'm a reader. I read good writing every day. This trawl through a half memorised mental thesaurus wasn't it.

I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West. And jotted down a line of advice.