Updated: Jan 3, 2019
Most students across the nation are likely to produce an audible groan when they hear the word "essay." It evokes the image of students frantically researching The Great Gatsby on SparkNotes the night before a paper worth 25% of their grade is due. We have begun to treat literacy as a goal to be attained as opposed to a process to be continually refined. In the good intention to promote youth literacy by integrating writing into public schools, we've created an image of literacy that feels more like chore than continual liberation.
So why do we bother teaching students how to read and write? We often hear that it's a very basic skill young adults need to even enter the job market. While this doesn't fail to be true, literacy is first and foremost a method of expression. This expression isn't limited to creative works like poetry or novels; it extends to cover letters in job applications, which need to be a candid expression of our experiences and goals. Expression, often of the self, is the point of literacy.
This purpose becomes obscured as we develop writing curricula that promote uniformity in ideas among students. In short, for a given prompt about The Great Gatsby given in a public high school, we can expect about 90% of them to deal with the same topics in the same exact manner. Essays are sometimes used to check off the box for basic comprehension of a topic, which is of little benefit over a multiple-choice exam.
The essay is a powerful pedagogical tool. This is not simply because it shows the instructor that the student has grasped what they were supposed to. Rather it demonstrates to the student that they have command over the ideas that allow for individual expression through developing an informed stance on an issue or question.
While having scattered ideas about a concept can be a good starting point for comprehension, creating a good essay, a physical, written, logical progression of these ideas, that supports a singular thesis helps fill in the gaps and affords the ability to truly explore the writer's own perspective. Ideally, students learn how to do this in their high school English courses, but the journey should not stop there.
It is absolutely critical for youth to write about the issues and topics that matter to them.
Yes, that's right. Write quasi-essays outside of school, and see if you can do it to your enjoyment.
Through writing, we create deeper interactions with our own knowledge and expand our perspectives, as well as share our ideas with others. These ideas need not pertain to simply American literature as is common in secondary education. In fact, they probably should not. It's important for youth to write about contemporary issues that they deal with on a daily basis like mental health, sexuality, and relationships (just some of the categories on The Magnificent Musings which we can expand as needed).
The Magnificent Musings is intended to give a platform for all the students (and adults) who want to explore what writing could be if it wasn't about prescribed topics. It's not about the quality of your writing, nor how well you can articulate yourself, but about your ideas. Your ideas matter. I encourage you to take ownership of them by putting them into words. If you want to share them, which I hope you do, go to "Contact" and reach out to us to become a writer.
By writing about the things that matter to you, you will learn more about yourself and your beliefs, which is deeply emotionally rewarding. By sharing your writing with others and reading about what matters to other people, you expand your perspective and appreciation for diversity, which is intellectually rewarding. Whether or not you choose to do that through The Magnificent Musings, I hope that you find time in your life to write. About anything or everything. Challenge yourself to ask difficult questions and see where it takes you.