Never made to write essays?

“Children do opt to do tough things—much tougher things than mowing the lawn or writing an essay—without coercion from parents.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge


From the archives: Posted on 10th December 1994

In an argument about the alleged necessity for pedagogical coercion with associated punishments, a coercionist homeschooling college professor wrote:

“I can’t ignore you. In the first place, we don’t paddle; we beat.”

Sorry! I was just trying not to be too offensive, but if you are happy with the word “beat”, so am I. 😳

“I teach freshman composition and literature courses at the college level, and I see far too many students who’ve never been ‘made’ to write.”

Many employers will no doubt say that they are sick of illiterate or semi-literate applicants—and all of these were coerced to write essays and suchlike in school. It seems that this making is not a foolproof means of imparting the skills.

“But more and more, I’m getting home-schoolers (who often sign up for my classes because they know my wife and I homeschool our own children) and they don’t know the first thing about writing an essay either.”

I find this unbelievable—except that it does appear that American home educators are (gross over-generalisation here) much more likely to provide a coercive, school-like “education” than autonomous learning which is more or less the norm here in England. As Professor Roland Meighan says in his book about home education, what is important about education is not that it has no holes—everyone’s education is full of holes—but that when one wants or needs to, one has the ability to fill holes, and children whose education has been autonomous rather than dictated from above, are much more able to fill the gaps. Unlike children who have been schooled, or schooled-at-home, autonomous learners are very independent as learners. They are self-motivated. So when, at age 14, say, they want to go to college, they have no trouble at all acquiring the skills necessary. This includes essay-writing.

“Your child doesn’t like to write? I understand. I don’t like math. I don’t like to grade my students’ papers. I don’t like to mow my lawn. I don’t like . . . well, you get the idea.”/p>

Yes, I get the idea. All these things are ultimately your own choice. It is a matter of your own priorities. You think you don’t want to mow the lawn, but then you think how unpleasant it will be for sitting outside if your garden ends up with foot-high grasses and weeds (or something), and you decide you’d rather suffer the inconvenience of mowing the lawn than the unpleasantness of long grass.

“We all have to do things we don’t like to do.”

But there is a fundamental difference between deciding that you want to mow the lawn despite the fact that you’d rather be doing something else, and being coerced by someone else to do something completely against your will. If you were to suffer the same sort of internal conflicts inflicted upon children in the name of education (or whatever), you would change things in your life so that you did not have to do those things. You would pave over the lawn; you’d take a different job. You would not just suffer it.

“(And often, as with mowing the lawn—and writing a good essay—the end product is worth the initial discomfort.)”

Yes, and if it is—to the individual concerned—great! Children do opt to do tough things—much tougher things than mowing the lawn or writing an essay—without coercion from parents.

“Okay, fire up the flame-throwers.”

In case it appears otherwise from what I have written, my intention is not to flame, and I am not seething with fury or offended or anything else like that—I just happen to disagree with some of what you have said! The problem with email is that no one can see the friendly smile on my face…

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1994, ‘Never made to write essays?’,

1 thought on “Never made to write essays?”

  1. Kids do need guidance imo. Its not taking them seriously if you dont have them learn the skills they need for college.


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