SOME OF MY the enjoyable and informative and thoughtful content I see every year comes in the form of student essays. That's happened again for me during the 2012-13 academic year.
Well-written essays from students cause me to reflect on essential readings and provide me 360 degree feedback on practical exercises. That kind of feedback is so critical and it will ensure the essay remains my preferred way of sharing explorations. It's also perfect for delivering dogma in numerous guises, which is another reason I keep essay questions on final exams in courses I teach.
And I accept ruminations in essay form. In my university days, I was forced to conform to thesis-centred argumentation in essays. I had to have a point and prove it. Today, I appreciate the illuminative power of well-written essays. Sometimes that means following musings, digressions and reverie as true eureka moments earn the spotlight.
I often wonder what would result if every candidate for political office was given pencil and paper and expected to write an essay on personal beliefs, positions, and interests. Without easy access to minders or briefing notes or online scripts, what kind of by-product would the politician share?
All the students coming into my third level classrooms today have grown up with text messaging. They've all entered higher education with iPhones on shelves of nearby shops. And they're users of that technology which means they may have meditative deficiency driven by easy answers just a single tweet away in our instant-gratification culture. This is a major challenge for everyone teaching composition skills to university students who so quickly expose themselves as unable to reason, think deeply and to create new things. In our over-connected society, the sheer flow of extraneous information prevents an ability to synthesise information in any critical way.
Why wade through tomes for answers when you can use your handset to ask Google or Siri for a quick answer--and get answers formulated by others? When I ask my connected students to write down thoughts in essay form, I often wonder if I'm viewed as as a slow-moving dinosaur in a world of gigabit data transfer. And when I set essential readings that encompass entire hardcover books, I know I'm seen as part of the Old School.
But the perception changes when I point out that in today's competitive job environment, people often fail to differentiate themselves based on skills or knowledge. The most distinct factor people now have is presentation. Sometimes that comes as a clever avatar, a well-designed screen for content or as a well-crafted essay.
So I am deeply committed to the essay at third level. Through essays that questioned conventional wisdom, the IMF reversed its position on austerity. Economists like David McWilliams, Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, Mark Thoma, and Duncan Black write thoughtful pieces that interact with each other and readers. These running essays offer well-honed personal perspectives while refining and linking to others. The op-eds stretching across an entire page of a broadsheet are essays that touch the mood of readers.
Enough for now. It's back to grading essays.
Bernie Goldbach is a creative multimedia lecturer at the Limerick School of Art & Design.
Christy Wampole -- "The Essayification of Everything" in the New York Times, May 27, 2013.
Ellen Ullman -- "Big Data is Watching You" in the New York Times, May 17, 2013.
Evgeny Morozov -- To Save Everything, Click Here, ISBN 978-1610391382
Yuri Tarnopolsky -- Essays a la Montague
Joan Didion -- "On Morality"
Bonus Link: The Eclectic Pragmatist