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A Discussion Guide For Overhauling Your Writing Program

Classical Christian schools overhaul their writing programs around every three to four years. This means there is a good chance your school is overhauling their writing program this summer. Before you make any new curriculum purchases or draft new writing requirements for teachers to follow, allow me to humbly suggest you talk through the following writing program discussion guide.

Classical Christian schools overhaul their writing programs every three or four years: why do you think this is? If such overhauls are a standard feature to the life of classical Christian schools, is it possible that most writing program overhauls are based on faulty premises?

What are the goals of your writing program? Why do you think these goals are attainable? If most classical Christian schools are overhauling their writing programs every three or four years, is it possible that your goals are simply unrealistic? Is it possible most classical Christian schools have unrealistic goals when it comes to writing? Are your writing goals largely based around what Dorothy Sayers claimed about “the rhetoric stage”? If you learned that many high school teachers (not headmasters, not consultants, but actual high school teachers) are skeptical that “the rhetoric stage” exists, and/or that students enter into “the rhetoric stage” at the age of 15 or 16, what affect would that have on your writing goals?

When was the last time your school overhauled their writing program? When was the last time you made a significant writing curriculum purchase or instituted new writing requirements for teachers to follow? At the time the last changes were made to the writing curriculum, what did you think those changes would accomplish? Why have those changes failed?

Who is in charge of the writing program at your school? Is this person a writer? What have you read that this person has written? Are the teachers who teach writing themselves writers? How much do they write? Have you read something—a short story perhaps, an essay, or even a full-length book—that your writing teachers have written? Have you writing teachers gotten anything published lately, even if just something short for an online journal? Why not?

If you have a writing curriculum, get a copy of a writing workbook or writing instructional manual that your teachers use for teaching writing. Who is the author of the workbook or manual? Does this person write a lot? Have you read anything other than the workbook or manual by this author?

Does your school make time for writing instruction or does your school expect literature teachers and humanities teachers to also teach writing (when they’re not busy teaching literature or humanities)? How much writing do your math teachers assign? How much writing do your art teachers assign? Your biology teachers? Your music teachers? Do you assume that anyone who knows how to teach Homer and Dante also knows how to teach writing? If so, why? If the burden of teaching writing primarily falls to your humanities teachers, why? Is teaching writing important to your school? If so, what evidence do you have that it is important? The way you prove something is important is by spending time and money on it.

If you have writing classes, do you also have thinking classes? If you do not have thinking classes, how will your students learn to think?

How much writing do your students do outside of class? What do they write? Do they write letters to their friends? Do they write poems for their girlfriends? If your students do not get practice writing outside of class, how will the small amount of writing they do for literature class possibly be enough? How many hours of writing practice do your students get every month? How many hours of piano practice are necessary to gain competence as a pianist? Are your students getting that much writing practice? If not, why do you expect them to be competent writers?

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