If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
There are some pretty snappy young writers out there, or as was once said of students at my school, “imps of promise.”
While we generally preferred not to be called imps, we were at least glad that someone thought we had promise.
Well, I have to say that I am encouraged by the talent that was displayed recently in the University Interscholastic League academic contests, of which I was invited to judge the journalism entries.
I had some misgivings about doing this, to be honest. I was afraid I would judge the entries too harshly and be too cross at little errors that can easily be repaired. You know the kind. A misplaced apostrophe, a run-on sentence, a verb in the wrong tense or, lord have mercy, a confusion over ‘their,’ ‘they’re’ and ‘there.’
Most of all, I was afraid that my harsh grading would put some budding young writer off ever bringing pen to paper again. A hard critique can do that.
But no. I resolved to be as encouraging as possible, but firm in upholding the values of properly exercised language.
I needn’t have worried.
Presented with stacks of entries in the news and feature writing contests, I was pleasantly surprised to find that nearly all of the high schoolers had displayed a firm grasp of the topic, had practiced clear and succinct writing, had organized their thoughts into a workable set of priorities, and had produced pieces that could definitely be considered candidates for publication.
There was not a great deal of anguished editing required. Sure, a few entries included some awkward phrasing and one or two had a couple of skewed sentences, but these were things that could be fixed.
I had to consider that the students were working within a strict time limit and didn’t have much opportunity to review, revise and rewrite.
Editorial writing entries produced further surprises. Students had strong feelings about topics but didn’t go overboard in expressing themselves. They exercised restraint and used clean, short sentences to come across as firm and resolved. They demonstrated their conviction and were persuasive in a mature and compelling way.
The copy editing competition was probably everyone’s least favorite of the day. It was an arduous slog through ordinary sentences into which someone had added peculiar mistakes, errors in style, spelling and grammar blunders that required identifying with appropriate marks and correcting.
I was a bit dejected that most students failed to notice every single mistake, but encouraged that they had found most. I had to remind myself that these teenagers were quite new at seriously marking up a piece of text and spotting errors of the kind that I’m sure they’d often make themselves, but grading these contest entries was a matter of counting checks, so there wasn’t any flexibility for valiant efforts.
And then, in the middle of the stack, I found an entry in which the student had not only corrected nearly all the deliberate errors but had also made stylistic and structural changes to the test samples that actually improved them.
I wanted immediately to shout “Yes!” and find out who this sharp one was, but of course I couldn’t because the entries were anonymous.
And then we came to the headline writing competition. This one was the most entertaining. It was obvious which students had taken it far too seriously and which had “thought outside the box,” as they say. There were some who had studied the topic in depth and who had been very selective with their words and managed to say what they needed in the space provided, and there were some who plainly didn’t have a clue.
Yet among those who weren’t going to earn enough points to win anything there were a few who demonstrated that they were quick of thought, surprisingly witty, and clearly clever with the language.
At the end of the day, I was not only grateful for having been invited to judge but also very glad indeed to have been reminded that the imps of promise walk among us and will one day write the stories that will define their generation.