I can pretty well hear the sides lining up. What Andy Selsberg does in his college freshman composition class is either a useful means of teaching youngsters how to focus in on a topic and make every word count, or it’s the latest means of pandering to the degenerate pop culture.
With all due respect to those in the latter camp, I’m in the former one. All the flash fiction stories and haiku here at Catsignal probably gave you a heads-up on that.
In some ways, this hearkens back to our “See Spot run” days. I don’t know what happens to break people of writing in simple, direct sentences like that, but it should be found and shot into space. Selsberg is reminding his students how to effectively communicate. Put everything you need in a sentence, but no more, and make it clear. This has immediate real-world value in addition to being a building block to longer and greater writing efforts.
I’d like to see this brought back into the lower grades, though. Just as we must crawl before we walk and walk before we run, Selsberg’s exercises can teach the next generation how to say as much as they can in as little space as possible. That can be quite a difficult task to master.
Obviously, once students get this under their belts, then follows longer-form writing exercises and assignments. Some things take more than two lines to properly express, and there is great literature that cannot be read in a minute or less. Still, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is merely 267 words long, and it has come to be regarded as one of the great masterpieces in the English language.