10 Minutes A Week

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has suggested a high school writing course. Jay writes that teachers and students

...like my idea of a required one-semester high school English course called Writing and Reading. Each student would produce a written piece each week and have it edited by the teacher for 10 minutes. The rest of the week, students would work in class on their next essay or read whatever they like while their classmates are edited. This spares teachers from marking up essays at home.

Just 10 minutes of editing a week per student does not seem like much, but such personal contact is powerful.

By the end of a semester, that would total nearly three hours of personal editing per kid, unheard of in schools today.

Sounds good.

Sylvia E. Robinson, president of SER Associates in Oak Hill, Va., said my suggested method resembles the way she was taught by English teacher Kathleen F. Sharkey at Medford High School in Massachusetts 46 years ago.

Sharkey “required those of us fortunate enough to be selected for . . . her honors English classes to write a theme a week,” Robinson said. “She would meticulously edit — in red ink no less — each week’s theme, sitting down with us to go over the comments. We were then required to rewrite that essay and have an additional essay ready next week. . . . While she met with one student, the rest of us read the ‘great books.’ ”

Medford! Reminds me of a book, called Teacher: The One Who Made The Difference

When Frank Lears, a small, nervous man wearing a moth-eaten suit, arrived at Medford fresh from Harvard University, his students pegged him as an easy target. Lears was unfazed by their spitballs and classroom antics. He shook things up, trading tired textbooks for Kesey and Camus, and provoking his class with questions about authority, conformity, civil rights, and the Vietnam War. He rearranged seats and joined in a ferocious snowball fight with Edmundson and his football crew.

Lears’s impassioned attempts to get these kids to think for themselves provided Mark Edmundson with exactly the push he needed to break away from the lockstep life of Medford High. Written with verve and candor, Teacher is Edmundson’s heartfelt tribute to the man who changed the course of his life.