Mark Sample’s essay, in many ways, diverts from the typical attitude that many English professors share. Unlike those who feel that the best way to evaluate a student in an English class is to require them to write an essay, Sample compares the essay to the standardized test in which “the only thing an essay measures is how well a student can conform.” Therefore, Sample believes that the essay does not allow the student to be assessed in sufficient depths of engagement. One of the most compelling thoughts that resonates on so many levels in Sample’s article is that “nowhere but school would we ask somebody to write something that nobody will ever read.” As many English instructors that assign essays to their students will agree, this statement is true in so many ways. Thus, questions arise: Are we really giving our students the right impression of English composition, if, in fact, what they compose is not relevant to their active, present world? In this sense, are we not giving off the impression that English and the process of writing essays are, in some ways, meaningless? Is it not arguable that if we show students that what they write does matter and effect their world that they might care more about what they write? Sample delivers a solution.
Sample explains how he has inserted more and more “public writing” into his classes in which students post blogs and wikis that are accessible to the public world. However, the actual content that students post, does not necessarily have to be only text. Sample explains how the word “text” itself, derives from the Latin meaning of “that which is woven.” Thus, students are encouraged to include image, sounds, and objects that also generate meaning. Hence, students “weave” rather than write. Sample’s calls this new method “creative analysis.” An entirely new set of critical thinking skills are required for creative analysis where students allow the images, objects, etc., to say what the words cannot. In this sense, students are engaging on an entirely new level than the former essay method. The new space that is created with creative analysis allows nearly infinite possibilities, where, the essay can only let students work in a space that has a predetermined, and limited range.
One critique that might be considered in regards to Sample’s argument is that there are essential realms in the world where the essay is in high demand. Newspaper articles, scholarly journals, reviews, and others are all still very much alive and circulated in our public world. Therefore, I would argue that not everything written in a school will always go unread. However, the school and university faculties may be at fault for not giving these student essays the proper audience that they deserve. Although I see the benefits in creative analysis, I can also see the untapped potential that the traditional essay has not yet engaged with. If the problem with traditional student writing is that it goes unread, there are other ways, besides digitally, to accomplish publication. Computers allow a wide range of possibilities when it comes to making a student’s idea or creation public, however, there is also a sense of casualness that cannot go unnoticed. A student can post a blog with numerous writing errors, under developed ideas, and missing information without penalty because they can easily go back and edit the post. Although this is beneficial on many levels, the digital world also allows a sort of sloppiness that other forms of publication do not allow. Therefore, we must at least consider the potential that these other forms have. Student newspapers, peer review, and class discussion on student writing can be equally as engaging as Sample’s creative analysis. Allowing students to engage in creating a class newspaper, containing their work (both text and image) that gets spread around the school, and has the potential to also be published digitally can allow the proper bridge between the two worlds of digital and print where students are still being creative and giving their work a public audience, yet, do not have to depend on solely a computer to do so.
Image by Shelley Thorstensen