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Reviews

"An engaging, compelling, and ambitious book. Warner writes extremely well, and his main claims, driven by his expertise as both a writer and a teacher of writing, are solid and nuanced. An excellent addition to courses and programs in which future professors are being taught to teach, Why They Can't Write should be widely read."

"If we really want to inspire young people to write, the tyranny of the five-paragraph essay must first be eradicated. John Warner has decades of experience turning reluctant writers into proficient and empowered ones. Wise writers, teachers, and rhetoricians will listen to this Illinoisian preach."

"Why They Can’t Write offers a powerful diagnosis of what’s wrong with how we teach students to write and what we expect that writing to look like—the dreaded 'five paragraph essay,' for starters. But as Warner makes clear, the future of writing instruction doesn’t demand more efficient teaching machines to assess students’ vocabulary and punctuation. Rather, Warner calls for more meaningful writing experiences for students—experiences that encourage inquiry and recognize students’ (and teachers’) humanity."

"John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write offers us a plethora of insights into what has derailed education and provides invaluable suggestions for how we can set it back on track again. Where to start? Get rid of the five-paragraph essay and any other formulaic approaches that train students to be bland, passionless writers and thinkers who score points on college entrance exams through pretention, not clarity. Plethora? Why They Can’t Write is common sense, which is to say it is revolutionary. Read it!"

"From the classic five paragraph essay to standardized writing and techno-hype, Warner has traced the many paths that intersect in our current Land of Bad Writing Instruction. Fortunately, he has mapped an escape route as well. An invaluable book for anyone who cares about creating and nurturing lifetime writers in the classroom."

"In this profound-yet-practical, compassionate, funny, and learned book, brilliant teacher-writer-editor John Warner takes on multiple forms of 'folklore'—not just about writing and genres, but also about teaching and learning. Warner, who hones his own writing practice at Inside Higher Ed, laments the ways imitation writing, imitation learning, and... dare I say... imitation living result from harmful teaching. Business as usual: beware! Your days are numbered."

"Why They Can't Write is a much-needed guide for all who are concerned about students' ability to write: teachers, parents, employers, and policymakers. Warner offers a concise, comprehensive assessment of the flawed policies that have handicapped writing instruction, and lays out a new map to guide our teaching. The book's engaging mix of research, practical experience, and common sense makes it a valuable resource for anyone who cares about good writing and good teaching."

"John Warner invites you to rethink everything you have learned about education, and writing in particular. Accept that invitation. Anyone who teaches writing will finish this book—written in the author's characteristically personable prose—with the foundations for a new approach to education, along with plenty of concrete ideas for engaging new writing assignments for their students."

"That title sounds as if it will be a grumpy polemic, but it's actually an inspiring exploration of what learning to write could be, framed by an analysis of why it so often is soul-destroying for both students and their teachers."

"Articulates a set of humanist values that could generate rich new classroom practices and, one hopes, encourage teachers, parents, and policymakers to rethink the whole idea of School and why it matters to a society. Warner is pragmatic, not programmatic, and hopeful without being naïve... I hope teachers, parents, and administrators across the United States read his trenchant book. We are the reformers we have been waiting for."

"Why They Can't Write dissects the underlying causes of why so much writing instruction fails in the American system and it provides tested, practical solutions for doing better. The book is more than a how-to-teach guide, however. It diagnoses several important structural problems in American education, including standardized testing, the allure of educational fads, the abuses of technology-driven solutions, and cruel working conditions for teachers."

"I wanted direction on how to better teach writing, and I got it—sample assignments that I can tweak to fit my classroom and discipline in marvelous ways. But I got so much more. I closed the book feeling energized and motivated to go back to the classroom and make changes. In fact my first reaction, as I finished, was 'I have to go write about this!' Which so perfectly encapsulates so much of what John would like to see us do as learners that I couldn't help but laugh."

"What is to blame for students' bad writing? According to Warner, the entire context in which it is taught. He rails against school systems that privilege shallow "achievement" over curiosity and learning, a culture of "surveillance and compliance" (including apps that track students' behaviour and report it to parents in real time), an obsession with standardized testing that is fundamentally inimical to thoughtful reading and writing, and a love of faddish psychological theories and worthless digital learning projects."