Just because we all had to suffer with essays doesn’t make it right to inflict them upon our students. Here’s some reasons why the essay has to die:
- Today, Information is so Much Easier to Find
Back when essays were invented, information was difficult to come by. If you wanted to put forth an argument and support it with evidence, you had to go to a library (and maybe more than one library) and physically track down documents. You had to read the documents and pull out information that supported and/or challenged your thesis. In other words, you had to do the legwork for the reader. Today, things are VERY different. Information is ubiquitous – there is literally too much information out there. It is no longer necessary for the writer to dig up and put forth evidence. The reader can, within minutes, read your ideas and then find corroborating or contradictory sources.
- Essays are a One-Way Monologue
In the past, essays were written and published. People could read them and – if they really felt the urge and after more laborious information gathering – write and publish counter arguments. The process could literally take years. Today, information delivery is an instant two-way street. It is a dialogue, more than a monologue. People can have live arguments on chat sites – exchanging facts and data as soon as they Google it. And this makes the process more dynamic and more valuable. Imagine how fast new ideas can be developed and disseminated in today’s model. Imagine how much faster it will be in the future.
- In the Past, People had More Time to Read Lengthy Written Documents
This may seem like a generalization, but the world is a much busier place now. A 2014 Economist article called the phenomenon “time poverty”. According to the article, Americans have more leisure time now than they did 40 years ago. However, that extra time is taken up by more and more activities – cooking, shopping, eating, reading, listening to music, watching programs, blogging, net surfing, etc. And, with greater online connectivity, more people are conducting more work activities in the free moments.
So, with all these distractions, when does anyone have the time to read and digest a 30-page essay? Who has the time to research and publish a response to such an essay? A 140-character Tweet or a Reddit comment makes way more sense.
- The Essay Structure is Ridiculous
MLA vs APA.
All of these things must be perfect before an actual idea is even considered. That is ridiculous.
- Essay Writing Ignores New Technology
There are new developments in technology that make communication more effective and more engaging. Videos and images are powerful mediums. I’m not saying that the written word no longer matters, but ignoring this new media is fraught with peril. Young people already live in a world of Vines and Snapchats. Forcing students to communicate their intellectual content solely through essays means holding them back in the past. Our past. As educators, we need to get out of their way and allow students to express their ideas in the mediums that represent their future.
In addition, the inclusion of new media as options for delivering content reflects good teaching practices, especially differentiation. Not all students are comfortable writing long documents. Not all students do their best work sitting at a desk for hours on end. Howard Gardner wrote about multiple intelligences way back in 1983. Isn’t it time we started reflecting those concepts in assessment?
- College Profs Demand Essays
I know I said there would be 5 reasons. Here is one for free – many teachers (especially at the middle school and high school level) cling to the essay because they are preparing students for the challenges of college. Wow. So, we are going to ignore what is happening around us and deny students the use of cool new technology, because some professor is stuck in the past? Since when do college professors dictate good teaching practices? When elementary schools implemented 6+1, Reader’s Theater, word walls, differentiation, or stations, did they first consult with college professors? No, good ideas are good ideas. If we implement good practices, colleges will just have to follow.
And, don’t think I haven’t spotted the irony of railing against essays through an essay. I am a product of my times and it is tough to break out of those chains. But, while people in my generation are chained up, the young people of this world are not. It’s time the academic world accepted that fact and embraced it. If we don’t, we might be left behind.
What are your thoughts on essays? Do you think they are still valuable in today’s fast-moving and information-overloaded society? We would love to hear your thoughts!