1. Education is not self-help. Any teacher or student who educates or discusses writing as if leading a seminar at the Holiday Inn off the highway outside of town deserves no audience. We should always call these teachers names. Taunt them at meetings. Counsel students away from their sections. For students: find a writing teacher who is able to work with you at the level of the sentence and who seems to understand what a discourse community is that encourages a temporary consensus that permits original social difference. These teachers stick out like sore thumbs on campuses with dozens and dozens of composition sections with teachers who simply apply a standard to which their employer subscribes.
2. An essay is not a commodity.
3. Beginning with the title, this presentation about writing an essay has stripped probably the most important thing from what teachers like to call “the writing process”: READING. Good writing is not possible without good reading. Writing and reading are always separated in capitalist education. Teachers and departments kid themselves about teaching reading strategies. At most, teachers discuss a common list of strategies that includes preview, summary, close reading skills without ever scaffolding the strategies in the class work because nobody actually uses the strategies the way the lists present them. Writing and reading are separated and starved of actual writing situations. Worse, when teachers see the problem, rather than confronting it, they often reject all structure, for a supposedly liberating tonic of “free writing” where they ask students to pretend writing is without situations.
4. Most departments team up with publishers to require students and teachers use standard texts and over-priced writers references that often include both a selection of readings as well as model essays. Thing is the readings are merely present to support a specific writing process that has been standardized in a way distorts rhetoric and discourse. For example, many teachers and students believe there are kinds of essays with names like “exploratory essay” or “reflection essay” or “argument essay” or “observational essay”. I have students ask me all the time “What kind of essay should I write?” Who teaches students to produce kinds of work (products) while also insisting writing can be free of hassle, stress, worry, and even be free?
5. Why do we commodify essays in composition classrooms? Rather than appropriately train teachers to assess student-writer needs and so train to learn to model sentence construction and paragraph development in a way that usefully incorporates reading and research into writing something we can call an essay, we’ve created a ur-structure for essays that can be broken down into standard modes with integral parts that can be accounted for in inventory lists and can be created by following one of several processes that, go figure it’s capitalism after all, can be customized in an infinite number of silly ways that lead to disgusting presentations of essay writing like this one above.
6. Let me run with the student as consumer metaphor for a moment before moving on to the first slide in the presentation. When consumers purchase texts, they also pay tuition to attend classes explaining their texts. Customer service representatives (teachers, mostly adjunct instructors and some industry professionals) can monitor the consumer activity (many schools have hi-tech classrooms that have really stream-lined surveillance) in the market, what we call a classroom, by checking off items in inventory lists. Norming becomes less teachers learning how to read student writing than teachers learning how to evaluate lists with different items and amounts of items. A grade will still be assigned to essays, but the grade is merely a representation of how many items were present on each consumer’s list and so grading becomes a means to assess customer satisfaction as well as a means to standardize the discourse, market activity, and future consumer. And presentations like this “How to Write a Kick Ass Essay” are merely addressing the inventory.