“I HATE writing essays in school,” Hope uttered.
I was eavesdropping on a conversation among the writing team in Studio 345’s marketing studio. Unanimously, the high school students were talking about how “dumb” their writing assignments were. I was surprised to hear this, considering that they chose to be writers whose job is to develop content about Studio 345 for the Arts and Science Council websites.
“I just don’t get the point,” she continued. Another student chimed in. “Sometimes I can just copy and paste something into my essay and the teacher won’t even know it,” he said. Others agreed, laughing.
A recent survey of teachers identified student apathy as one of the major problems in classrooms. Academic disengagement is on the rise, as fewer students are willing to play the game of school without any perceived gain.
When I attended Governor’s School, a free summer program in Tennessee for high school students to take college courses, a friend came to my room on the verge of tears. She shoved her essay in my face; it received a 60%. “I don’t know what happened,” she said. She told me that she was the best writer in her school and had never not received a perfect 100. She let me read her essay–a 60% was generous.
It’s clear that our current education model has two gaping, intersecting problems: poor pedagogy (or: my friend always receiving a perfect grade for poor work and consequently never learning her potential or room for growth), and non-engaging pedagogy (or: the students at Studio 345 not trying on school writing assignments because it’s assigned as busy-work without any explanation or perceived benefit.)
School should not be a chore. Essays should not be seen as something to throw together for the sake of a grade (and for the sake of not getting grounded, as my brother likes to point out). Unfortunately, though, that’s what education too often looks like in the eyes of students.
I’ve had conversations with some of my professors about this. Some think that learning should be more fluid. For example, prompts should be less restrictive, and deadlines and late grades shouldn’t have to be so frequently mandated. Does it really matter when something is turned in and what it is, they argue, as long as the student is working hard and learning from it?
I’m not trying to ignore logistics. Deadlines exist because teachers need sufficient time to grade assignments fairly and consistently. But the point stands that there are many educational models in place that aren’t being questioned frequently enough. Another example is the teaching of the five paragraph essay. I would hate writing, too, if I were still forced to write in the five paragraph style. You’ve got to tell your reader what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said, my high school English teacher would say, explaining why we needed to follow the introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion format. If you can’t think of three reasons why you’re saying it, it’s probably not good enough to say. I liked him as a teacher, but those words still haunt me.
If student apathy is a growing problem, what is the cause? Some educators I know would say bad attitudes or bad homes. All I know is that when I’m sitting in on Studio 345’s marketing studio, I’m impressed by how successful it is. Chris, the teaching artist, says that every day he gives them the option to leave class 5-10 minutes early to have time for a break. One or two will stray to the restroom, but almost everyone earnestly continues working. Last time I was there, a kid yelled “Guys! We only have eight minutes left, we have to hurry!” I wish my group projects in college were like this.
There’s a reason students aren’t buying into school anymore. Hope doesn’t get “the point” because too often, there isn’t one. Even employers who hire recent college grads aren’t buying into it as frequently anymore, ignoring GPA and transcripts in lieu of other factors like extracurricular involvement, work experience and recommendations.
Clearly, there are ways to engage students to get them excited and eager to learn. Some teachers, like Chris and the other teaching artists at Studio 345, have discovered these methods. I pray that more teachers do.