Students become writers at a very young age, starting in elementary school where they begin to build their fundamental skills and get their creative juices flowing by starting to free write and unleash their thoughts and imaginations they have bottled up inside their heads. At this age, students are only asked to create personal and fictional stories, so instead of the activity of writing being a loath-worthy task, it becomes a playful environment where each individual is able to express their inner selves and feel a sense of accomplishment.
As high school approaches, these same students start to dread writing because now it has become a tedious assignment where they feel constrained to five-paragraphs and a strict rubric to follow.
These students are no longer feeling the sense of accomplishment they once felt because they’re no longer creating information but instead regurgitating it. However, if these individuals are taught how to properly put together an essay that is unique in its own way and is able to present a topic in a new light, then a sense of pride can be rejuvenated.
Re-reading an essay that has been written critically with full effort and energy will provide a pleasure of attainment never felt before. In this study, my desire is to investigate how this sense of achievement can be attained by any writer by exploring principles that Thomas E. Recchio has established in his article “On the Critical Necessity of ‘Essaying.” As a professor of literature and Program Director of Freshman English at the University of Connecticut, Recchio was eager to report his findings on how an “essay” should actually be written and instructed.
Recchio shares concerns with the current “prescribed structure” of a critical essay as it encourages students to utilize the art of demonstration” instead of “inquiry.”
He then introduces the idea of a “essayistic spirit,” where a writer’s mind is not fishing in the shallow end, but instead continually exploring to create “a new relation” to their topic. The standard model of writing doesn’t extend itself to be original and yet this form still remains “unchallenged.” I will analyze these principles and others Recchio has introduced to provide a conclusion as to why students aren’t able to feel a sense of achievement through their writing, a necessary sentiment a writer must obtain to sustain an eagerness to learn.
Recchio takes an evaluative stance on the subject of writing to make certain that his definition of an “essay” focuses on a writer challenging themselves to develop an original yet profound and self-expressive composition. Recchio asserts that the current “pedagogy of writing has been dominated by a formalized, self-contained systematic thought where play discovery and recursiveness are squeezed out of discourse” (378). Students are introduced to the “thesis-then arguement” type of essay at a young age and this strict structure gets more repetitive as their school years go by. This formulaic structure limits students’ potentials because it eliminates their personal and original stance on a subject but they never question this writing since they unfortunately continue to believe that is the correct way to write. Recchio’s main concern is that the “tyrannical” model of writing doesn’t challenge the student. He argues that “skepticism, uncertainty, and openness to possibility have no place in such a form” of writing (378). The student is merely confirming what they are taught, therefore they’re not provided the opportunity to explore and examine this new information, instead they just demonstrate their current understanding which prevents the progression of a topic as this old knowledge stays stagnant and doesn’t develop.
To step away from such a “ghettoized” enthusiasm and structure for writing that’s being used in ciriculums across the states, Recchio believes the essayistic “spirit” needs to be present when discussing any topic. First and foremost, even before writing, the author needs to form some type of connection with their topic. By establishing a connection, Recchio acknowledges that “writers are not isolated from their objects” (377). Feeling as if you own the topic not only gives you a motivation to write but also insures you’re not mimicking what others have said. Students time and time again detest writing because they’re not involved enough with the topic to look at it from their own perspective. If you are able to complete the simple task of connecting with the topic then it becomes much easier to have multiple voices in your writing, which can also be termed “heteroglossia.” Recchio gets the idea from Mikhail Bakhtin, a writer, that “individuals speak both as representatives of groups and as unique, unduplicatable beings” (379).
Therefore, an essay can contain voices from all parts of a person’s life such as professional, personal or even social, but the difficult task is being conscious of how and when they are used to strengthen an essay. The “unity” of multiple voices serves the importance of allowing ideas to shift and blend because the writer is able to gain outlooks on a certain topic from different experiences that they’ve encountered throughout their life. Heteroglosia also establishes a sense of “wholeness” which allows a person to feel psychologically complete from all aspects of life which defines who the writer is. Writing is much more than solely putting down (or typing) words, a crucial understanding a writer must comprehend. Recchio objects students or any writer needs not to look but to think, not simply to perceive but to probe, not to accept but to question, all qualities…of a mind a work” (382). A mind at work insures an author is active in their writing because their mind will be constantly forming new ideas, making new connections or examining what is already known in order to wrest new meaning. As an individual’s thoughts on an subject keep growing, the topic itself will also keep evolving. There are also the subtle qualities a writer must attain to ensure a stronger essay. An essential piece of the essayist “spirit” is the ability to be unafraid to take risks in your writing.
Taking a risk means incorporating anything such as a personal anecdote that makes the writing non-traditional and, as Recchio states, “gives teachers of writing a pause” (381). Teachers are bound to grade hundreds of papers on the same topic and it’s obvious to them when a tudent shows courage by approaching a piece of their writing their own unique way and opposing an absolute path. While it is difficult to show bravery in an essay it is possible, for example a student might revolve their entire essay around a metaphor, something the teacher will look at as a noteworthy gamble that gives ownership to the student writing. Recchio ends his article by introducing the idea of living hypothetically, which was inspired to him by Robert Musil. As a person’s age increases they go through new experiences that make them feel like their intellectual capacity has also considerably expanded. The person then becomes more aware of everything around them and takes more precaution. This is not the way you should approach writing an essay because, as Recchio quotes from Robert Musil, “for a thing wholly comprehended instantly loses its bulk and melts down into a concept”(384). A author that writes hypothetically may not fully understand their subject but they work with what they are given to explore the topic even further.
An essay of the average high school student, including myself, showcases that many essential components are non-existent and proves the “spirit” that is needed to produce a comprehensive piece is pretty much dead. With that being said, I would now like to introduce a part of an essay that I wrote in my junior year of high school for a U.S. History course which was assigned to be completed over a span of a few days both in and out of class. The assignment primarily focused on the aftermath of slavery and whether the better choice for the newly freed slaves was to agitate for equal rights or accommodate with pre-existing conditions. Prior to writing, our class had spent about a week discussing the lives of African-Americans after the emancipation proclamation pronounced the abolition of slavery: Booker T. Washington’s philosophy was the complete opposite of W.E.B Du Bois’s because he was an accommodator who believed in accepting segregation. Washington’s role model was Samuel Armstrong, a war general who believed all that the freed people needed was “practical education and character building.” Samuel Armstrong transferred this philosophy to Washington and it’s what Washington’s built his legacy upon. Both Washington and Armstrong thought if the blacks could gain the basic skills and understandings necessary in life then the black community can slowly develop.
Based on this theory Armstrong built a new black school in Tuskegee, Alabama and named Washington the principal. This school was a vocational school that focused on building practical skills, such as farming or shoemaking, that could be utilized right after graduation. At the time of Washington’s death in 1915, Tuskegee had employed a staff of two-hundred and two thousand students were enrolled. W.E.B Du Bois argued “black Americans should use education as the route to full integration into American society.” Washington asserted that this would happen eventually when blacks are able to contribute to society and become “self-sustaining” individuals. However, the black communities could have possibly turned segregation into separation following Washington’s ideas which would make it even more difficult to integrate because even though the blacks were living on the same land they were also creating borders from the rest of society.
This particular paragraph completely disobeys the values that Recchio has preached in his article and it’s quite easy to make a judgement about the piece right off the bat: there is too much demonstration of knowledge. Every sentence is basically a fact that was put into my own words which only proves that I am a expert in writing summaries. There is more to history than simple dates or occurrences and I failed to understand it at the time. People have complex motivations and thoughts as they’re pursuing their goals. Therefore, a mind such as Booker T. Washington’s’ was constantly spiraling with a variety of ideas while he was making history and this underlying information should be the topic of discussion included with the simple facts. This type of writing can be the result of a teacher placing limitations on the assignment, but when that occurs it becomes the student’s responsibility to take a risk and somehow intelligently incorporate their own method to the writing. For instance, I acknowledged that Booker T. Washington was a principal at a “vocational school that focused on building practical skills,” but I never fully explored such a significant idea which is the heart of the paragraph. After such an 1Booker T. Washington underwhelming sentence, I should have continued inquiring about vocational schools and how they could benefit or hurt the black communities. The notion of completing ideas hurts this passage as a whole because there are many other ideas left uncompleted such as “separation” or “accommodating” which could’ve been investigated even further to extend and or even form a different understanding of how they relate to my overall topic. If a student can provide even more information on a certain idea then why are they asked to constrain themselves? I actually had learned about vocational schools in a Modern World History class in 9th grade so I was able to provide plenty of background knowledge yet at the time I was only concerned with filling the teacher’s requirements, nothing else. When students are provided with pre-made questions to answer they are discouraged to form their own. This happens often where teachers are holding the student’s hands through the essay by providing a step-by-step guide. I fully utilized the teacher’s guide that was given to us and never reached knowledge of my own or performed any “acts of daring.”
It’s apparent that the formality in this essay is consistently maintained but only to create a drawback in the writing: an unawareness of different voices. Most of the paragraph is filled with the voice of an academic textbook that gives off the tone of a boring lecture. However, near the end of the paragraph there is a glimpse of, as Recchio calls it, “interanimation of life and language”, where I begin a personal thought and discuss segregation leading to separation, still this statement provides no depth. Since I was unaware of implementing a personal voice I didn’t realize how this utilization could’ve made the paragraph stronger. I interject how even though African-Americans were “living on the same land they were also creating borders from the rest of society.” This idea, among one of the only in the paragraph, was derived entirely from my own thinking which makes it much more special because I was finally able to bring in my own voice into the writing. I challenged the philosophy segregation that Washington had in mind and performing an act of daring but unfortunately the risk didn’t have a high reward so instead I went ahead and cut off paragraph right there.
Another piece of writing I would like to examine stems from a Language and Composition course from my junior year in high school. This assignment, however, showcases some of Recchio’s values unlike the previous one. The teacher merely proposed to us the assignment of whether or not an ideal of beauty exists and if it can be achieved through purchase. There weren’t many limitations placed on the class except to use multiple sources to prove the thesis in under three pages. This assignment was very lenient in the fact that it was more of an inquiry based task where we were asked to develop our own position on such an active topic, whereas an event in history is set in stone. Our class had thoroughly read and annotated many articles relating to the topic of beauty, therefore we had a good understanding of the topic’s history and details:
Not only does the use of products and procedures show an ideal of beauty exists but so does the expectations that people put upon themselves and those that are placed by their surroundings. An expectation of beauty exists only if people let it exist but our culture has morphed into a monkey see monkey do culture so an ideal of beauty is inevitable. Therefore people will place unreachable expectations on themselves and this was proven on the headline of Dove’s press release which said “only two percent of women describe themselves as beautiful” (The Truth About Beauty). Even though some of these women may not use cosmetics and other products they still know that there are levels of beauty that they are not living up to. Currently, the media is primarily where our expectations are derived from since there is a “vast array of media from reality television to airbrushed magazine covers.” The media portrays famous figures in our society inaccurately because not all but many of the people we see shown with the intentions of gaining an audience so the media will portray them more attractive than they actually are. Photoshop is a software than can easily transform a person’s image and this is one of the tools the media will use to enhance beauty. Everyone understands this type of technology exists yet they disregard it. The average individual will then use these sources of media as their expectations and they may even take large measures such as surgery to meet these standards.
This paragraph certainly shows that I had moments where my mind was at work; thinking, probing and questioning. As I brought the media into my discussion of beauty it was clear I made my full effort to expand the idea by answering questions I had in my head as to how and why the media changes our perception of beauty. Citing “photoshop” as a tool for beauty enhancement and mentioning that the media has “intentions of gaining an audience” creates a conversation with the writing and also explains the answers to my own questions. A discussion with the text is significant as it proves the writer is actually engaged with topic generating new thoughts as they finish writing each sentence. Since I have the sense that I am completely attached with my topic I lose the necessity of “thinking hypothetically.” If I feel that I have attacked “the media” from all angles, then I won’t be inclined to explore the idea any further. The motivation to keep an open mind disappears and I’m now only left with my current understanding. The how and why questions that were answered are only the beginning to understanding “the media” as it serves a much larger purpose in defining beauty in our society. The strengths and failures dissected from my own essays hopes to serve the purpose of specifying the state of mind and the variety of critical skills required for writing an actual “essay.” It’s a guarantee that with these specifications in mind any student will finally obtain the sense of achievement in their writing. However, this is not possible if the student is not willing to make sacrifices to begin with. Each and every individual must be willing to invest time and energy into every one of their essays. An essay takes time commitment and a writing environment where no distractions are present so the outcome won’t be the same if one assignment is written the period before it’s due and the the other completed in a personal workspace throughout the week. Each sentence has value to it so each word must be carefully and thoughtfully incorporated. Such a task may provide a challenge but as a student any type of challenge should serve as motivation. Overcoming obstacles is where independent learning occurs and this type of learning is the best as it builds a student’s confidence. While students try to fulfill these requirements it is the instructor’s responsibility to provide them with a proper learning experience. A teacher must create a challenging environment that tests the student’s abilities by preparing thought-provoking assignments that allowing the student to have freedom to approach the assignments their own way. It’s the teacher’s job to come to in motivated to educate every single day, giving guidance when really needed but at the same time helping their students embrace the struggles and confusion they face. A example of this ideal teacher is one that introduces a topic to the class, then enlightens the students on this topic by providing stimulating mini-assignments and, ultimately, assigns a final task that not only assesses what they have learned but also what understanding they have developed on their own.
We are fortunate enough to obtain the skill of literacy and it should not be taken for granted. An “exploratory” essay is a form of art that utilizes this skill to enable full expression of one’s self. This freedom we are given can improve minds of millions around the world and even benefit each and every nation. The “new” essay builds critical thinkers that, when they step out of the classroom, see different aspects of life in new perspectives. These individuals are then able to collaborate with their peers to create solutions for complex problems that humans face in everyday life. It will a take diverse pool of ideas to solve issues such as pollution or unemployment, issues that simply can not be solved without a tactical approach. The “essay” Recchio introduces has the potential to make a grand impact and I’m exuberant that his article was brought to my attention because it has inspired me to change how I view writing. I understand that I’m not the perfect writer but this attribute doesn’t define what the outcome of a essay should be. Each essay is built upon the author’s blueprint which makes them all exclusive. The essay has value. It impacts the writer, the audience, and the subject matter at hand.