Creative Writing: A Level or Not a Level? Graeme Harper Reflects on Some of the Issues Raised by the Proposal for an A Level in Creative Writing
Harper, Graeme, English Drama Media
Whenever the question of 'levels' enters the discussion of creative writing, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd heard the sound of thunder and best prepare for the lightning strike! There's good reason for this: the discussion of 'levels', generally, in creative writing teaching and learning raises all kinds of questions and, indeed, as the subject has grown and developed in Higher Education over the past twenty years or so, research into these issues has equally grown more intense and, indeed, more informed.
The wary might quickly suggest that here there are elements of special pleading. After all, is it not fairly straightforward: levels of learning in creative writing can be judged by levels of competency and competency can, by and large, be judged by whether a piece of creative writing is worthy of dissemination to an audience (e.g., depending on the level, a publication of some kind--a school magazine or website, some other kind of magazine, a journal, a book--or, in the case of some kinds of creative writing, is it worthy of performance, or of being part of an exhibition, or of contributing to a new media piece?)
Thus begins a reflection on the issues that relate to the proposal for the development of an A Level in creative writing, and on the considerable potential that lies within such a proposal.
Creative writing has been around in post-16 education in the West since the birth of post-16 education. Ignoring the fact that Plato's Academy (founded 385 B.C) did not necessarily limit educational access on the basis of a person's age (whether young or old), creative writing in post-16 education could easily be traced back to the Academy; or, indeed, in other areas of the world, to institutions of similar antiquity in China, India or Persia. In all such examples, institutions of higher learning have embraced creative writing, both as a recreational activity and as a knowledge seeking activity, often on what might be called today an informal basis.
However, it is not to this long informal history but to its shorter formal history to which most people refer when they talk about the teaching of creative writing. That formal history of creative writing largely relates to its growth as a subject in the 20th century--with considerable emphasis on its development during the second half of the century. Focusing on the formal history of creative writing teaching and learning, immediately points us to key issues relating to the proposal for an A Level in creative writing. Firstly, what would we teach in an A Level in creative writing? Secondly, how would we assess what is taught and what is learnt? And, finally, if we introduce an A Level in creative writing, how would we differentiate between it and other levels of creative writing learning?
Process and product
To begin, ask this: is the act of writing creatively represented, in its entirety, by the works we find in bookstores, on the cinema screen, in the theatre, in children's books read aloud in primary schools, on the stage, in the narratives of computer games, at a local pub poetry 'slam'? This list could go on because it is a list of the outcomes of creative writing and the outcomes of creative writing are very considerable, both in form and in variety. But creative writing is not only its outcomes, it is also the acts and actions that produce it. Creative writing is action and, as many refer to it, 'process' as well as product.
The same process argument could be made about any of the arts. However, creative writing is unique in being an art form founded on the use of words, and often words that, in some other medium, would not be joined together to make what we call creative writing. This is not an argument suggesting a general unfamiliarity with the visual or aural arts; rather, it is an argument about how significant the use of words has become in almost all world cultures, and about creative writing as a specific way of using words. …