“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” – George Orwell
I came across this quote the other day, and it really got me thinking about the importance that writing has on thinking and in turn, on the importance of individual thought. George Orwell has been my all time favorite writer for years. I think that 1984 was actually the book the sparked my love of literature. What I loved about that book was that it really made me think. It scared me, it challenge conceptions I had made, and it made me reconsider what I knew to be true, Everything else I had read in school was just a nice story with some elegant diction, but 1984 fundamentally change the way that I viewed the world around me. I was shocked that some printed words could have that kind of impact. But that’s what’s wonderful about the written word; it has the power to alter perspectives and spread ideas. Writing provides the means to capture thought. That fact makes writing essential.
As educators, that means that we are responsible for developing this most important skill of writing in our students. Writing isn’t necessary to teach just because students will need it to fill out job applications and perform various other tasks in the future, but because writing is a critical component of the thinking process. I mean, look at what happened in 1984. If you’ve read the book, recall the revisions of the Newspeak dictionary. The whole idea of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought through language to make rebellion impossible. Essentially, if there are no words available to express independent, rebellious thoughts then no one could formulate such an idea let alone articulate it and carry out its actions.
The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be… Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now.
Again, words and writing are powerful. Writing provides students with a way to make their thoughts concrete and to share them. The writing process is what makes thoughts “real”. Inversely, good writing skill can promote students to be better thinkers. Writing skills like organization, sequencing, making connections, and providing sufficient examples to prove statements are also highly important in thinking. If we, as teachers can enforce skills to make students good writers, we can help them improve the way they think too.
And obviously thinking is important. If students can’t think for themselves then they will let others think for them. Peer pressure is a huge problem for middle school and high school students. If we can help students become better thinkers then maybe they will better be able to make the right choices when confronted by the majority. Thinking beyond the majority opinion and formulating informed decisions is an invaluable skill that will be important the rest of students’ lives, despite their career paths. Thinking and writing are directly related concepts. If we can help students learn to write well, we can help them become better thinkers; thereby avoiding the future George Orwell had predicted.