Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Topic: School Essays

10-second review: What exactly is an “essay” in composition class?

Title: Review of Beyond Outlining: New Approaches to Rhetorical Form. Betty Cain (Lantham, MD: University Press of America, 1992, 218 pages). Reviewed by RM Coe. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 264-266. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Like many teachers, Cain uses the term 'essay' as if it referred to a single genre. My own opinion is that school essays are hardly of the same genre as what Montaigne, Carlyle and Orwell wrote or what appears in the New Yorker.”

Comment: As part of teaching students to write, it wouldn’t hurt to analyze well-known and contemporary forms of the essay.

In my opinion, Montaigne organized his essays as his mind moved from thought to thought. On the other hand the essays of Addison and Francis Bacon are organized with a beginning, middle and end.

What exactly is the school “essay”? It is modeled on the five-paragraph essay. It is not limited to five paragraphs. It has an introduction, a thesis, topic sentences and a summary paragraph. It is based on the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” formula for effective communication. What would be an accurate label for this type of essay? The “Three T’s Essay”?

Instead of writing in modes (argumentation, narrative, description, etc.), students might write essays in different formats—Montaigne, Bacon, Addison, the New Yorker, Martin Luther King, Jr., Loren Eiseley, Joseph Wood Krutch, etc. RayS.

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