I have a friend who has taught English at a Christian school in Haiti for about 9 years. Since the earthquake she and her two children have been evacuated to the US while her husband remains behind overseeing the use of the school building which is being used for disaster relief.
At any rate, she enrolled her children in our local schools. They are in 1st and 6th grades and have always attended the school in Haiti where both their parents work. So, for the first time last week, they got on a big yellow bus and went to public school in Kentucky. It is quite a change for them, but they seem to be adapting quite well.
The daughter is in middle school and is academically ready for community college. Her vocabulary and critical thinking skills are amazing--way beyond a typical or even bright student of her age. She is really loving school, except for English class.
Now in all fairness, her mom was her English teacher in Haiti, so that may play into to it some, but basically she is being taught a very formulaic writing, with lots of rules and boundaries. She is being taught things that she has probably known for years and years; as this child is quite a writer.
At any rate--she was told--she could not use dashes in her writing! Never! When she asked why, the teacher said, "We don't use them in this country."
As you can see I am probably flaunting the law because I LOVE using dashes in my writing. It is what sets us apart from the animals--well maybe not that dramatic--but they are a very useful type of punctuation.
The daughter of my friend said, "That's OK, I will use parenthesis," but my friend and I really laughed about this. Here is a kid who is an amazing writer, has just been evacuated from the devastation of Haiti, leaving behind her father as well as her friends and her whole world--and the teacher won't let her use dashes!
I am reminded that people who actually follow all the writing rules rarely write anything worth reading. It is the writer who dares to break some rules, who dares to be brave enough to try something different, who dares to make themselves unique and vulnerable in print--that is the writer who writes things the rest of us want to read.
If we want dull and uninspired writing all we need to do is go into a writing class where everyone has to write the same way about the same topic at the same time whether they are passionate about it or not. That is not really writing, it is just passing time and not really profitable to the writer or the writee [spell check did not like that word, but you know what I mean].
In writing, more than anything else, we need basic tools to work with, but then we need to let the writer interpret and bend the rules so they can engage and inspire the reader.
NO Dashes?-- Banned Punctuation?-- What is this world coming to?
I mean, come-on! [Can you hear my voice? I think it is the dashes that help you hear what I am saying, don't you?]
So, this is for Susanna-------------- Use parenthesis for a while if you must but don't lose your dashes. Don't lose your creativity, your passion, your gift. Be a writer who isn't afraid to break the rules and tell us what you think. We need you and your talents--dashes and all.