I’ve been imagining things or creating things for as long as I can remember. Whether that was an imagined scenario for my Barbie’s to live in, or a feeble attempt at a poem as a third grader, or a short story about a horse in 4th grade, or creating a world in my mind as I was falling asleep at night, I was always creating some alternative world for either my toys to live in, my characters to live in, or my to live in during daydreams. In ninth grade my classmate and I would pass a massive notebook back and forth as we made up a novel and traded off who was writing the next part.
I always enjoyed the chance to write creatively in school, and we did it a lot. In middle school we were expected to write stories using vocabulary words. Which is why when I assigned my freshmen students the task of writing a short, two paragraph story based on what we had been learning, I didn’t really think anything of it.
The reaction I got told me I should have thought twice. Pretty much only one student in each class sat down and wrote something creative. The rest of them looked at me like I was crazy. A typical conversation with a student went like this:
Student: “I don’t know what to do.”
Me: “Well, we’re working on a story. Why don’t you pick one of the items we’ve talked about. Which one do you want to do?”
Student: “I guess that one.” [Students points to one of the things we’d been learning about.]
Me: “Great idea! Your story is going to need some characters. Your characters should be doing something that follows what we’ve been learning. What could they be doing that shows that?”
Student: “Uh, I don’t know.”
I give some suggestions that they can then alter or specify for their interests.
Student: “This is too hard.” [Student proceeds to crumple up paper and throw it on the floor.]
Sadly, this has not been an isolated incident during the semester. When I’ve asked students to write a question that they could ask their classmate who just presented about something, the most common response is simply, “I don’t have any questions.” What is it about this society that makes it so difficult for students to generate ideas? Most of my students would rather sit and copy down notes, memorize them, and spit them back out than create something that shows feeling or emotion. Where is this getting lost?