GCSE essays 'sickeningly violent'
The article, for those not about to click on the link, states that examiners are becoming worried about the number of creative writing essays they get that are (apparently) very very violent with little plot development. They're also bothered about the number of essays which are receiving high marks simply for being very long, while also being full of bad spelling and grammar and little else.
I have a problem with the first of their worries (not the second; I fully agree that we shouldn't be giving people high marks just for writing like Thomas Hardy or Leo Tolstoy without the benefit of a spellcheck). First off, the article doesn't give any demographic breakdown of whether girls or boys are worse at writing this 'sickeningly violent' stuff. I'd bet my cheesecake it's boys - considering the article states that a popular title is "The Assassin", that sounds like the very kind of thing a lot of teenage boys strapped for inspiration might write. And just how weird is that? I'd think that people would actually be more concerned if you had boys writing gentle comedies of manners or romances for their GCSE coursework.
Second, I really dislike the idea that, if you write something violent, you're instantly someone to be watched and worried over. Over the course of my school days, my Creative English works included:
- a short story about a mugging which goes wrong and ends up with both lead characters dead
- a story about a train wreck (actually for my GCSE English exam; the prompt was "Write about a school trip where something unexpected happens". Well
, thought I (not liking the prompt very much), what's more unexpected than a train derailment?
I also didn't think I'd be allowed to get away with the Spanish Inqusition.)
- a post-apocalyptic story based very strongly on The Stand
(I was reading it at the time) which included descriptions of people dying unpleasantly of a virus
- a story about a zombie attack (my A-level coursework)
- a story about a teenage girl who takes revenge on a classmate by poisoning him
Now, I don't know if the difference between me and them (because I received high marks for all of them and no comments or worried looks from teachers... well, I did for the zombie one, but that was because my English teacher was terrified of the sight of blood) is that I was a better writer and so my choice of subject could be... overlooked, but that really shouldn't be the point. Creative Writing is all about imagination, not reality, and people shouldn't be assuming that because we write about stuff like this that we're actively hoping for them or going to go out and do it.
Maybe we should be looking at why kids are writing violent stories with no plot or substance... are they actually being taught how to write these things? I know I was lucky in school because I had teachers who saw that I enjoyed writing and actively encouraged me to do so whenever possible, but from what I see of the way school is going nowadays, I have to wonder if Creative English is being taught at all in some areas. And if that's the case, then it's no surprise that kids are reduced to writing "The Assassin" and similar.
I'm just deeply concerned that this is going to lead into a 'watchlist' of 'dangerous' students whose only crime has been to write something for their schoolwork that has violence in it...