|“If for whatever reason, you can’t free your child from under the pile of schoolwork, or if the children you see struggling are not your own, do all you can to tell them the truth: Next to life, school is entirely secondary.”|
Many who have finished, teens and adults alike, have said that completing the 50,000 word challenge showed them that can do anything they set their minds to. They discovered that by breaking down a gargantuan task and tackling it every day, they can accomplish the impossible. But gaining self-discipline and self-confidence is quite secondary to turning in that essay on Napoleon, reads the paradigm.
Besides this, I don’t think people are taking into account the research that goes into noveling. These kids will research the battle of Waterloo of their own volition, if they’re writing a historical novel set in Belgium in 1815. And it’s not just the historical fiction writers who look things up. I’ve heard people carry on quite happily about all the super-cool things they’ve learned, perhaps about theoretical physics and wild canine habits (for their werewolf science fiction thriller, of course), or maybe they’ve found out what A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all about (since their romance’s dreamboat protagonist is a theater kid). That kind of learning will stick with them.
So far, I’ve mostly written fantasy. Because of my NaNo projects, I’ve read books on writing, grammar, and the art of punctuation, as well as books on history, warfare, and politics. I’ve spent hours researching weapons and psychology, terrain and travel, metal- working and hide-tanning, sled dogs and winter survival, and plenty more. I’ve learned so much more than if I’d been forced to study the very same subjects. Guess what? That’s what happens when people follow their passions. But society would have us remember that learning is quite secondary to finishing all that social studies homework.
I’ve not even touched on the obvious fact that writing a novel is a creative endeavor, a chance for people to stretch the wings of their imagination. If the participants have never even penned a short story, it’s an opportunity to see if they might like writing. If they’ve written before, just never anything so huge, it’s a time for them to push the boundaries of their artistic comfort zone. If they’re novelists, but they’ve never written anything so fast, it’s a chance for them to see what happens when they have to put words down faster than their inner editor can snatch them back.
|“Art, craft, passion, knowledge, self-discipline, self-confidence, and self-motivation: These are the things that the priority paradigm tells us are secondary to schooling.”|
And whether they’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, they’re going to have the first draft of a novel at the end of the month. Surely that’s worth something, isn’t it? Only if school comes first, say too many parents and teachers. Art, craft, passion, knowledge, self-discipline, self-confidence, and self-motivation: These are the things that the priority paradigm tells us are secondary to schooling.
There are students who have wrangled class credit for their novel, and I’m glad for them. There are now 20,000 classrooms participating in NaNo programs for school, which thrills me – so long as it remains optional. There’s no better way to put someone off of noveling than forcing them through 50,000 words of it!
The thing that disturbs me isn’t the lack of noveling in schools. It’s the mindset that school is more important than noveling. Indeed, school is assumed to be more important than any non-curricular inclination or passion a child might have.
If a student just climbed Mt. Whitney, or finished an online course on understanding the stock market, or built a dugout in their backyard complete with electricity and plumbing, or launched an ad and design company, or perhaps has done all of the above and written a novel in the past year—that’s nice. But did they finish their homework?
If for whatever reason, you can’t free your child from under the pile of schoolwork, or if the children you see struggling are not your own, do all you can to tell them the truth: Next to life, school is entirely secondary.
Tirzah Duncan, aged nineteen when she wrote this article in 2012, is a thoroughly unschooled fantasy writer. She spent her childhood dashing after whatever fascinated her, which mostly consisted of online games, books, Scotland, business, and martial arts. Then she fixed upon writing, and has been working to make a career of it ever since. You can check out her work at her website, or at her blog.