So I’ve decided to declare war upon the 5 paragraph essay–which is perhaps bad timing, given the fact that I’m about to head out to a school where some 7/8 teachers are doing teacher moderation of 5 paragraph essays. Nonetheless, war has been declared and alliances have been formed and well, it’s just hard to stop that ball once it gets rolling. Just ask that poor Serbian nationalist who assassinated the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand.
Why have I decided this call to arms is necessary? Please read the following manifesto:
Like a virus, the five-paragraph essay infects almost every student, starting as young as grade 4 with some students and continuing each subsequent year until grade 12, and then if the student has survived the virus, sometimes college and university.
Why do we hold this writing form aloft as the pinnacle of academic achievement?
It’s formulaic, repetitive, restrictive, and forces students to purport themselves as experts on a topic they can hardly be experts on.
It doesn’t allow for creativity, questioning, divergent thinking, or personal voice (“Never use ‘I’ in an essay!!”). Is that really the kind of thinking we want to encourage among our students who will be one day venturing out into a future we can’t even begin to imagine?
I am all for encouraging students to explore ideas and support those ideas with evidence, but why oh why does that have to be done in an essay? Or at least this kind of essay.
Because it’s in the curriculum expectations you say?
Where? Show me. I dare you.
The essay does not appear as an example in the Ontario language curriculum document until grade 9 Academic English. And even then, it doesn’t say “By the end of this course all students will write an essay.” It says “By the end of this course students will identify the topic, purpose, and audience for several different types of writing tasks (e.g., … an expository essay explaining a character’s development in a short story or novel for the teacher)” That doesn’t actually say that the student needs to write the essay, just identify the topic, purpose, and audience for the essay.
Some may argue that the essay should still be taught because it is an important skill that they will need in later grades or in college or university. I’d argue that essay writing itself is not a skill. Critical thinking? Paragraph construction? Supporting ideas with proof? Elaborating? Brainstorming? Making connections? Yes. All skills. And they are all necessary to write a cohesive essay. I argue that these are the things we should focus on. Not the essay. These skills are all necessary for a variety of types of writing.
So, comrades, please take up the banner and join me in my fight to find more engaging and creative writing tasks for our students. Do not submit to the facist authority of the almighty essay.
And while you’re at it, here’s some supplemental reading: