Why Essays Are Stupid

I fired our writing teacher.

I was hesitant to fire her because she is the only black person my son has ever talked to outside of a store setting. But once I started thinking like that, I knew I had to fire her.

The more papers she assigned, the more I wondered why anyone still pushes that kind of writing.

So many writing teachers will say that people who write clearly think clearly. And teachers tell kids they need to learn to “write well” because writing is good in and of itself. But actually having good ideas is what’s good, not being able to write well about them.

And this is a great time to tell you that many, many scientists in the US speak English as a second language and have someone else write their papers, which is a great example of how the ideas are more important than being able to write about them.

I think my son needs to learn how to search better. He asked me why Slaughterhouse Five is about war. That was a good question. Guess where I sent him? SparkNotes. There was a two-paragraph summary of the book that answered his question. He could have written a paper to answer the question, but that would be absurd when millions of people have already answered the question online.

What about taking another approach? Teach kids to write short. I don’t want to read a five-paragraph essay from anyone. People pay attention to brevity, and as we shift faster and faster to a video-based, emoji-laced language, words must get shorter and shorter.

Actually, I think my son just needs to write without adverbs. You can’t go wrong if you leave adverbs out. And that’s not just the -ly words. But you don’t have to learn all the adverb rules, you can just use adverbless to take out the adverbs from all of your writing. I love this tool. I love the sentiment that writing well isn’t rocket science it’s just caring enough to take a second pass at what you’ve done.

McSweeney’s recently published a list of letters Nick Hornby wrote to explain why his kid’s homework wasn’t done. And Hornby begs the question, “What if kids declined to write assignments they didn’t like?”

Many people probably just turn to a service like DoMyEssays.com. But Hornby uses the language of the work world to show us that when we don’t want to write something as adults, we weasel out of it. Here are two of my favorites, but you should go read them all. You’ll never want your kid to write another school essay again.

Dear Mrs D,
Thanks for your homework. Your idea of writing a Christmas ghost story was a good one, but it’s not really the kind of thing I tend to do — it’s a little bit too genre for my tastes. Try Kevin, who sits next to me. He loves that stuff.

Dear Mrs D,
It’s a no, as you’ve probably guessed. The problem for me is that it’s too similar to something I did quite recently, and though I know you’ll say that you’re asking for a book report of a different book, the form and shape of book reports are sufficiently alike for me to conclude that the homework would feel a bit stale. If I’m going to commit an hour of my life to something, I’d want to feel stimulated by the freshness of the challenge. I hope we can get to do something together soon!

Essays are pointless. They are completely without meaningful purpose. Absolutely no new information is learned or introduced through writing five paragraphs on a topic that is usually utterly irrelevant to anything that a student needs to be learning. Essays are not just boring, but also a total waste of both the student and teacher's time. The writing of an essay is a long and tedious process that benefits absolutely no one. A student is assigned a topic by his or her teacher that is usually something moronic and insignificant, and the student, who almost always doesn't care at all about the prompt, composes a page or two of garbage that consists mainly of overused adjectives and transitional words. No aspect of an essay is enjoyable for anyone, whether it be the student who is forced to write it or the teacher and the student's fellow classmates who are forced to read it.
Essays waste a great amount of precious class time. While students could be practicing skills such as spelling and grammar, both of which are extremely necessary for writing, they are instead producing poorly written essays on incredibly mundane topics. Writing is indeed a substantially useful skill that every person will use at some point during their life, but I personally do not believe that having students create essay after essay without really taking into consideration the actual quality of the writing is the correct way to go about teaching them this skill.
In addition to this, most traditional essay topics are usually inapplicable to anything that a student would need to be writing about at any point in their life. For example, the topic of "Favorite Meal" would only be relevant to life if the student happened to be writing a cookbook, which I highly doubt they would. Writing essays on specific topics honestly only makes a student prepared to write more essays on the same topic, while improving their spelling, grammar, and vocabulary as a whole would allow them to be able to produce a well-written essay on any number of subjects. Simply choosing a topic for a student to write about, however, doesn't benefit them much at all, especially if the topic is one that a student most likely will not encounter again.
The writing of an essay is quite possibly the most monotonous and tiresome way to force the basics of writing and grammar into a child's skull. Essays are extremely old-fashioned, not at all utilizing the readily-available technology of the twenty-first century. Surely there is another way to learn the same skills that essay writing teaches in a way that is much more interesting for both student and teacher, yet the school system doesn't seem at all enthusiastic to find it. Many other subjects and classes have already tried updating their methods of teaching so that they weren't so obsolescent, and the results are primarily positive. I feel that if English classes would modernize the way they teach grammar and writing skills that it would benefit everyone.
Essays are, in simplest terms, mundane, outdated, and stupid. Essays are neither enjoyable for the student to compose nor for the teacher to grade. I know from personal experience with helping my mother grade her students' essays that proofreading an entire class of poorly written papers is extremely tedious. Finding an alternative to essays would do nothing but profit both parties. Essays do not help students improve their basic writing skills nearly as well as they are intended, and they do not prepare a student to write about other topics.
You just lost the debate.


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