Writing the essay

The subject of essays pops up with surprising frequency. Mostly it's in the context of who can't write one: students these days, teachers these days, other easy targets.

Sometimes it's the kind of essay that's at issue. Ask high-schoolers for a piece, and personal memories, personal angst, or personal trivia will often spew forth, overwhelming older folks taught that this was the stuff of diaries. Gone, it seems, are the days of currying favor by plumbing the shallows of world peace.

The most current historians of the state of the essay may well be college admissions officers. This time of year, they probably have a lot to say about whether writing needs more emphasis in class - or what happens when life experience hasn't caught up with a student's expertise in using a thesaurus. See page 14 for details.

If the results aren't always pretty, it isn't for lack of a substantial number of coaches involved in the production. Parents, of course, are intensely concerned about how those 1,000 or so words will affect where they ship $120,000. The army of adults who stand ready to offer highly priced editing and coaching also keep a sharp eye. Some schools assign the essays in English class, to be reviewed again and again.

Which makes you wonder how readers hear a writer's voice. Or how students get much out of the process, other than learning gamesmanship and the meaning of "high stakes." Let essays speak to what a teenager's been thinking and doing for the past four years? Too risky, it seems. Gone too are the days when "be yourself" was a big part of the message as students picked up their pens.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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