In the headline of a recent post for his Class Struggle column, Jay Mathews asks Can computers teach writing?

Of course the answer is no, but then his post wasn’t really about teaching anyway. His theme was using computers to grade student writing, especially that done on standardized tests (one driving force of his philosophy of education reform).

However, the most relevant part of the entire piece is when Mathews relates learning to write back to his own experience.

I didn’t learn to write until I was in college, and only after I joined the ­student newspaper. That extracurricular activity had more than enough veteran student journalists eager to tear my stuff apart and show me how to put it back together. That is different from the typical English class, where a good teacher can impart some wisdom going over a sample essay on the overhead projector but cannot give quality time to every ­student.

He learned to write in a real-life situation where he received lots of feedback and advice from his peers and, by extension, from his readers when the work was published. Not from his teachers, maybe only peripherally from his editor.

Remember that Mathews was learning back in a time when very few people had access to a printing press, the work was distributed on paper, and available to a limited audience.

Most students learning to write today have any number of places on the web to post their work (not just a privileged space on the site of a major newspaper), in a persistent format that is aggregated in search engines, and an international audience.

Shouldn’t we make available to all students the same learning opportunities that assisted Mathews?