In fourth grade in North Carolina, we have a writing test where we have to write a short story about some prompt or another. They range from boring (“Write about the best birthday you ever had.”) to bizarre (“Imagine you open your lunchbox and there’s a frog inside. What do you do?”). We spend all of third and fourth grade practicing for this test. The writing skills taught are incredibly bizarre.

We’re not supposed to use boring words. We’re supposed to be creative. For example, we are never supposed to say “bad”; instead, it’s “horrible,” “terrible,” or “awful.” “Walking” is another no-no. “Lumbering,” “striding,” and “skipping” are all preferred. We are also supposed to insert as many adjectives and adverbs as possible to make our writing descriptive. Of course, not boring adverbs and adjectives. Similes and metaphors are also used heavily. Writing the word “said” is enough to get you sent to fourth grade creative writing hell. 

For example, a sane person would write, “Carl didn’t like Susie. One day, on the playground, he said she was dumb. Then he walked over to her and hit her with his blue lunchbox. She cried.” (Not that this is an example of good writing, anyway, but you get what I mean). An obedient North Carolina fourth  grader would turn that sentence into, “A hideous, elephant-sized boy with firetruck-red hair called Carl absolutely despised the beautiful, golden-haired Susie. On a bright, sunny day, at recess on the rocky, dirty playground, he shouted evilly and loudly that she was horribly dumb. Then he, cruelly strode over to her and  angrilly hit her with is sky blue, shiny plastic lunchbox like a Power Ranger. She wept giant tears like a smelly, apple-cheeked baby.” Or something like that. Ridiculous, no?

Needless to say, if anyone actually wrote in this style and tried to publish a book, their manuscript would be laughed out of any reputable agent’s office. 

I am trying to figure out why the state feels the need to teach people to write like that. Most of us know how to read and figure out pretty quickly that it’s insane, and I can’t imagine that there are people in the department of public instruction actually believe this to be good writing. Any theories?

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