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Why They Can't Write

Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities

John Warner

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An important challenge to what currently masquerades as conventional wisdom regarding the teaching of writing.

There seems to be widespread agreement that—when it comes to the writing skills of college students—we are in the midst of a crisis. In Why They Can't Write, John Warner, who taught writing at the college level for two decades, argues that the problem isn't caused by a lack of rigor, or smartphones, or some generational character defect. Instead, he asserts, we're teaching writing wrong.

Warner blames this on decades of educational reform rooted in standardization, assessments, and…

An important challenge to what currently masquerades as conventional wisdom regarding the teaching of writing.

There seems to be widespread agreement that—when it comes to the writing skills of college students—we are in the midst of a crisis. In Why They Can't Write, John Warner, who taught writing at the college level for two decades, argues that the problem isn't caused by a lack of rigor, or smartphones, or some generational character defect. Instead, he asserts, we're teaching writing wrong.

Warner blames this on decades of educational reform rooted in standardization, assessments, and accountability. We have done no more, Warner argues, than conditioned students to perform "writing-related simulations," which pass temporary muster but do little to help students develop their writing abilities. This style of teaching has made students passive and disengaged. Worse yet, it hasn't prepared them for writing in the college classroom. Rather than making choices and thinking critically, as writers must, undergraduates simply follow the rules—such as the five-paragraph essay—designed to help them pass these high-stakes assessments.

In Why They Can't Write, Warner has crafted both a diagnosis for what ails us and a blueprint for fixing a broken system. Combining current knowledge of what works in teaching and learning with the most enduring philosophies of classical education, this book challenges readers to develop the skills, attitudes, knowledge, and habits of mind of strong writers.

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Why They Can't Write

John Warner

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Reviews

That title sounds as if it will be a grumpy polemic, but it's actually an inspiring exploration of what learning to write could be, framed by an analysis of why it so often is soul-destroying for both students and their teachers.

Articulates a set of humanist values that could generate rich new classroom practices and, one hopes, encourage teachers, parents, and policymakers to rethink the whole idea of School and why it matters to a society. Warner is pragmatic, not programmatic, and hopeful without being naïve... I hope teachers, parents, and administrators across the United States read his trenchant book. We are the reformers we have been waiting for.

Why They Can't Write dissects the underlying causes of why so much writing instruction fails in the American system and it provides tested, practical solutions for doing better. The book is more than a how-to-teach guide, however. It diagnoses several important structural problems in American education, including standardized testing, the allure of educational fads, the abuses of technology-driven solutions, and cruel working conditions for teachers.

I wanted direction on how to better teach writing, and I got it—sample assignments that I can tweak to fit my classroom and discipline in marvelous ways. But I got so much more. I closed the book feeling energized and motivated to go back to the classroom and make changes. In fact my first reaction, as I finished, was 'I have to go write about this!' Which so perfectly encapsulates so much of what John would like to see us do as learners that I couldn't help but laugh.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
5
x
8
Pages
288
ISBN
9781421437989
Illustration Description
1 halftone
Table of Contents

Part I: Introduction
Our Writing "Crisis"
Johnny Could Never Write
The Writer's Practice
The Five-Paragraph Essay
Part II: The Other Necessities
The Problem of Atmosphere
The Problem of Surveillance
The

Part I: Introduction
Our Writing "Crisis"
Johnny Could Never Write
The Writer's Practice
The Five-Paragraph Essay
Part II: The Other Necessities
The Problem of Atmosphere
The Problem of Surveillance
The Problem of Assessment and Standardization
The Problem of Educational Fads
The Problem of Technology Hype
The Problem of Folklore
The Problem of Precarity
Part III: A New Framework
Why School?
Increasing Rigor
The Writer's Practice
Making Writing Meaningful by Making Meaningful Writing
Writing Experiences
Increasing Challenges
Part IV: Unanswered Questions
What about Academics?
What about Grammar?
What about Grades?
What about the Children?
What about the Teachers?
In Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Appendix
Notes
Index
About the Author

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

John Warner

John Warner is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a contributing blogger for Inside Higher Ed, and an editor at large for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He is the author or coeditor of seven books, including The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.