Writing education, a precursor to the literary teachings of advanced high school classes and a variety of college majors or electives, begins in kindergarten. Children learn the alphabet, they learn to read, and practice their penmanship on papers with lines that have been divided like roads. Then they learn to string letters and words together into a sentence, a paragraph — pages upon pages every day till every student knows the difference between a run-on and a sentence fragment. And then, only upon completion of this task, they learn to write essays.
Learning and Unlearning How to Write an Essay
They learn the five paragraph method; they have it etched into their minds till it becomes an instinct. Then, with little warning, they are finally plopped into high school, and promptly told that they should never turn in a five paragraph essay again. Most students shift to four paragraph essays. True overachievers shift to six. But: if students are not taught the basics, it becomes impossible to shed the rudimentary elements of essays and adapt to the written communication formats demanded by new instructors and careers.
Learning to write essays, research papers, APA or MLA outlines, lab reports, resumes, and even scholarship essays all exist as extensions of those fundamental skills established in the classical five paragraph format. Organization, an art rarely mastered or even handled by high schoolers, is taught in the internal structures of body paragraphs. Rhetoric and skills in sales, bargaining, and debate are extensions of the most basic ideals of a persuasive essay.
The intertextuality and evaluation of credibility required to understand news sources and write research papers is developed through the citations and reasoning taught in explanatory essays. Continually, those are simply a small portion of the disciplines taught alongside essay writing, and do not include the most vital part of writing education.
Without a way to convey information, progress of knowledge and technology cannot occur. Though, perhaps, the traditional essay format is not used to communicate the type of revolutionary and instrumental data of modern progression generally seen in research professions, it can still instill a symbolic importance to those texts. Without records, stories, and evidence all events fade into fiction or the forgotten realms of the past. Lost information, as valuable as it might have been before, rarely has the vast repercussions of impossibilities and noble prize winning papers.
The Big Picture
For better or worse, if untold and unenduring, knowledge can become irrelevant. Essays, though not the best method nor the proffered by many, are still a necessary method of this record keeping and communication. They are evidence that someone knew, or read, or did something, and that information, as flimsy or sloppy as it may be, was gained and exchanged. They are the first taught basis to a simple exclamation that someone existed, that they thought and that their lungs were full of breath— their head formed words and that as irrelevant as it might have been, they made something.
An essay’s true value lies only in its ability to be built upon and improved upon. As anything that prevails must change, it is a system that can, and perhaps should, be improved, but currently suffices. It teaches application of creativity and thought, along with rational or chronological reasoning. It stands as documentation of life and learning, and from kindergarten to college, never wavers in its dominance of the American classroom. For these reasons, and infinitely more, essays and the instructions that teach them, will never cease in importance, and any career chosen will require them. If only to send a text or write a resume. Any written skill requires a discipline taught by the essay.
Featured Image: Alejandro Escamilla, Unsplash.