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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Let AI do it: High schoolers don't need to write essays any more

"Good-bye and good riddance" to teaching students to write essays, writes Daniel Herman in The Atlantic. Herman, who teaches English at a private school in Berkeley, welcomes our new robot overlords. Starting this year, he's shifting his focus from writing to reading.

His 12th-grade class spends a semester (!) reading Moby-Dick. Last year, a student spent weeks working on a research paper analyzing "whaling and the exploitations of global capitalism," writes Herman. On the day before it was due, the student watched ChatGPT produce a similar paper in seconds.

Future college students won't need to write research papers, Herman predicts. They'll have AI assistants to do that sort of thing. He's tired of teaching students how to make a claim, provide evidence for the claim, etc.

He plans to turn his class into a book club. Students will read and discuss texts, respond to prompts by writing in a spiral notebook, then turn that writing into "something to submit" that may not look like academic writing. "If the conclusion doesn’t reiterate what was expressed in the introduction, that’s okay."

"Every student is good at this sort of writing," writes the teacher. They are capable of expressing themselves "clearly and effectively, just like they would if you asked them something via text message."

I think this is like arguing that children don't need to learn how to walk because they can travel by motorized wheelchairs or flying saucers. Learning how to argue -- make a claim, support it with evidence -- is an important skill, and not just for college. Writing clearly requires thinking clearly. Texting "CU @ cafeteria" is not enough.

Years ago, someone studied if test prep improved test scores. It did not. What did improve scores, in both math and reading, was teaching writing. Why did it help in math? Apparently, students improved their reasoning skills.

By the way, an entire semester on Moby-Dick? Do they read anything else?

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