Brave Writer and Academic Writing
What is the goal of Brave Writer?
My favorite kind of writing is academic writing. I love the strict nature of the structure, the importance of the positions being argued and the power of doing it well enough to persuade or change a reader. So if you are under the misimpression that academic writing is not the goal of Brave Writer, I want to correct that now. It is my goal for all my students. But it is not the primary goal.
Let’s look at the foundation of what writing really ought to be.
Writing is about writers, first. It is about identifying what you want to say and then finding the right vehicle for saying it. So the question is: how do we get there? And that’s where programs offer you a variety of philosophies to consider. Let’s look at Brave Writer and see how it helps your writers do just that.
Brave Writer is not primarily about teaching kids to be creative (as in writing silly stories or personal anecdotes or fiction). It is not a program that is designed for those who want to avoid doing the hard work of writing instruction. Rather, Brave Writer promotes a lifestyle (habit) and a practice (discipline) that leads to effective, original, thoughtful writing that sounds like the writer and reflects the original and unique contribution that writer wants to make to the topic.
Classical writing programs often begin with the imitation of great writers and a practice that focuses on getting it right – right format, right style, right grammar, right mechanics, right argument structure, right ideas, right discipline. The goal (to have an intelligent, competent writer by college) is the same one I have for my kids and my students. It’s just that we get there differently.
Brave Writer begins with the writer.
Brave Writer doesn’t start with imitation or with the topic of writing at all. It starts with a person – the writer. Let me show you how it’s done by comparing it to another process you know well: speaking.
When your kids were less than a year old, you talked with them all the time, even though they couldn’t talk back. Some time around a year to 18 mos, your little darling uttered her first word. In my family, our son Noah pointed and said “Nana” indicating that he wanted a banana. I immediately shrieked “Jon, get here quick. Noah is brilliant!” I then coaxed Noah to say “nana” again so that Jon would see how good his genes were. After handing Noah the banana he wanted, I ran to the baby book and wrote down the date and the word “nana.”
Here is what I did not do. I did not panic and think: “Oh no. He said nana not banana. I wonder if he’ll ever learn the right word.” I didn’t stop him and say, “Now you know, Noah, the word is banana and it is a noun. You must use it in a sentence like this. If you use it correctly, I will give you a banana.”
Rather, for the next five years, our lives were filled with speaking opportunities. We talked with him every day, we giggled over his mispronunciations and put them in the baby book, we helped him when he got stuck and couldn’t think of a word, we listened to his rambling stories and experiences waiting for him to find vocabulary or sort out the details.
At age five, when his fluency kicked in, we did not suddenly impose structures on his speech. He didn’t have to give public addresses, act in plays, enter debates or make presentations. He was free to enjoy talking, all while we slowly introduced him to varieties of ways talking could be used. Over the next twelve years, Noah learned the following speech formats: how to chat on the phone, how to meet and greet people, how to host a party, how to act (he has done both Shakespeare and contemporary plays), how to give an oral report, he learned to recite and perform poetry and speeches, he discovered and excelled at improvisational acting, he taught others how to use computers, and he made presentations.
He could not learn these “formats” while he was still learning to become fluent in speaking. These uses of speech came after he had been sufficiently saturated in spoken language in a loving and supportive environment for years. We introduced spoken formats over time, with increasing difficulty as they became relevant to his life and capabilities.
Write it out!
So let’s compare this now to writing. Did you, the first time your child misspelled a word, run to the baby book and jot down how cute it was to read “becuaz” instead of “because”? Did you delight in the fact that your daughter wrote an entire page of invented phonics to tell a story that you couldn’t read but that she could?
Probably not. There is something in us that says when it is written, it must be perfect. But let’s think about this for a moment. When does writing ever get to be about the joy of self-expression aimed at a reader? What if we focused on that written self-expression for about, say, four or five years? We could start at age 7 or 8, and let them narrate while we jot things down for them. We could watch them transition to writing some of it themselves (in all its glorious inaccuracy and fumbled attempts at punctuation) while they are 9-10… maybe even 11.
At the same time, we immerse them in language. We read, we copy, we dictate passages to transcribe. We watch Shakespeare and read Chaucer. We recite poetry and we tell jokes. We watch sitcoms and movies. We write down what they think of all these things. Or they write it. Or we do it together, modeling how to access that language that is growing inside. We show how to put in periods and commas, how to figure out spellings when not sure, how to use Spell and Grammar Check, how to revise our work so that it is better than it was on the first pass, how to upgrade word choices and images to convey meaning. We do all of these things, together, at the table as we make time for it.
By about age 13, then, your writer will likely be fluent at written self-expression. He or she will feel comfortable on the page – it will be a true reflection of that person’s voice and insights, ideas and thoughts, images, and metaphors. These will be growing naturally in your writer over all those years together writing, reading, and talking.
When you hit those high school years, then, it is time for formats and that’s when we move out of the more freewheeling style of writing and learn how to discipline it to satisfy the demands of an academic community. Let me tell you – kids who have been active online (writing) and who grow up in the Brave Writer style of language arts development make this transition seamlessly. They are my best writers, bar none. They may not always be the best mechanically (at first). But they have so much to say, so many words to draw on, so many ideas and insights… and they brim with confidence.
Kids who come to me who have been “well-taught” (grammar, mechanics, formats) often can put together good copy (as in following the structural directions), but there is little imagination. I don’t mean imagination as in fiction. I mean the ability to think and reason creatively, persuasively, with insight.
The other bug-a-boo is that a regimented program often dulls the child’s natural writing voice and interest in writing. As long as writing is external to the child’s inner life (is about fulfilling requirements for someone else), the writer suffers.
If you’re looking at classical education for you homeschool,
click to keep reading about Brave Writer and Classical Writing.