Teaching students to write an essay with an introduction, three topics supported by examples and a conclusion — the dread five-paragraph essay — quashes creativity, claims a Michael Winerip column in the New York Times. Teachers have no time to help students find their own voice; they’ve got to crank out essays that will earn a passing score on state exams.
In response, four letters to the Times analyze the merits of the five-paragraph essay. I think this one by Matt White is closest to the mark:
The five-paragraph formula is not ideal; it’s not even the ideal formula, but it’s better than nothing. So, too, with standardized writing tests. Let’s be honest: Because of the No Child Left Behind Act’s testing requirement, kids are writing more, the key to improving writing skills, because if they don’t, they fail the standardized test.
American society places great emphasis on individual liberty and intellectual creativity, but students can’t be great creative writers if they are not technically competent. Strong writers don’t need to use the five-paragraph formula; low-proficiency writers, and most school students, are better off using the defective five-paragraph formula than nothing.
I learned expository writing in high school by practicing the 3-3-3 paragraph, a precursor of the five-paragraph essay. We learned to back up our assertions with “concrete and specific” details. We didn’t much like it, but it taught us to think logically and write clearly.
In 2003, Will Fitzhugh of The Concord Review, which recognizes sophisticated history essays, reprinted an essay that received an “excellent” score on the National Assessment of Education Progress exam. Standards aren’t very high. The prompt asked high school seniors to discuss a book which should be saved for future generations.
Creating a literary masterpiece is most likely every writer’s dream, German writer Herman Hesse did so when he wrote Demian, the story of one boy’s coming of age.
Although this novel is not necessarily a blatant American classic, it does have many powerful traits and deserves to be read by any highschooler. In the sense of literary analysis, the novel is an excellent example of Jungian psychology, and serves to chronicle a boy named Emil Sinclair’s individuation, or the process of finding out who he is. High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life. Since Sinclair is going through much of what an average student might (troubles at school, falling in love) relating with and learning from Sinclair is an important aspect of the novel. The novel speaks of two realms: the dark half and the good half, and Sinclair’s early loss of innocence by stealing a few coins from his mother. Many students feel disheartened by the sudden realization that they are no longer children, and long for the ignorant bliss of innocent childhood. Reading about Sinclair s journey through the good and bad realms prepares students for the imminent good and bad experiences in life, and provides them with a hope for the future: that such experiences will leave them a mature and well-rounded adult, full of wisdom and compassion.
If one were to rid the world of books, Demian should be saved because of its profound impact on its readers. It is said that a book is a classic if people continue to read it decades after it is written. I see a classic as nothing more than a literary jewel, polished until society can gaze into it and see a perfect glimpse of itself.
Only the top 1 percent of essays receive the “excellent” rating. And, yes, Demian is not necessarily a blatant German classic.