Students need to master written language. But they also need rich topics to write about.
As Peg Tyre notes in her article, schools in the U.S. are about to confront a host of new challenges. The majority of states are on their way to adopting the Common Core Standards, a set of reforms that will dramatically change the way many schools teach writing across subject areas, not just in English class.
And this is as it should be -- to be knowledgeable in any academic subject, a student must be able to develop arguments and provide appropriate evidence. In studies that my colleagues and I have conducted in middle and high schools across the United States, it is common to hear a science teacher, for example, complain that the way students are taught to write in language arts just won't do for their writing in physics (or biology or chemistry). Follow that idea a bit further, and the implication is clear: Teachers of science (as well as of history and other subjects) need to help students write in the ways appropriate to their own subject areas.
"Generic" writing skills -- ones that can be learned in English class and applied everywhere else -- just won't do. And neither will a curriculum that focuses on knowledge about writing (the conventions of written English and the structures for paragraphs or whole essays) -- rather than on the issues and ideas that make a subject interesting in the first place. This is where I think Peg Tyre's article may lead us somewhat astray.