Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Snowflake Essays.

  • We all know that special snowflakes don't lift a finger unless something directly affects them. If I tell them to write about gender constructions, no one is going to pay attention. If I tell them to write about the gender-specific toys they played with as a child, they usually do the assignment. While it might not help to discourage "special snowflake-ness," I am trying to work with what I've got, and what I've got are a bunch of cranky teenagers who respond best when I appeal to their narcissism and self-involvement. I'm sorry if that causes problems for you, but for me, it's sort of like victory.

  • I admit it—I do assign “Special Snowflake Essays.” Two of them! The first asks the little darlings to describe their identity. And yes, they’re Christians and Cowboys and Goths, oh my! The second asks them to explain what made them that way. Of course, they freak out. “You mean I have to explain this?” It completely blows their little minds that they have to sell me on WHY they’re precious instead of merely claiming that it’s who they are. Once that’s done, they have to write a third essay which explains how another person would react to the same kinds of stimulus, and why those people have turned out exactly as “special” and average, as my little snowflakes. The snowflakes recognize that their beauty is short-lived, and they will soon join the masses of other snowflakes who came before them. They crunch delightfully under my boots! So yes, I do assign “Special Snowflake Essays” and I suffer through grading them, but in the end, they will all be assimilated into the big frozen Borg cube that is academic writing.

  • No, I will not stop assigning essays that ask my special snowflakes to draw on their own life experiences. I don't assign them because they're easy; I assign them because I believe in their value. I don't ask my students for "the most important day of their lives," because I don't give a crap. But I do ask my students to analyze the class material by drawing on relevant examples from their own lives. This encourages critical thinking about themselves, which lord knows they need. I am careful to explain to them that they will NEVER be allowed to write the word "I" in another class for as long as they live. Whether they care or listen is another matter. If they are writing about themselves when you want them to write about Flannery O'Connor, just take off 20 points for every "I" or "me" you see--or just flunk them.

  • I am overrun with students whose lack of motivation to do the work is the direct result of thinking they "can't write." Not only do I have to encourage them to write, but I also have to encourage some kind of pleasure and confidence in the activity. Personal writing usually gets kids to realize that they have more freedom, strength, and value in their own writing than their high school teachers led them to believe. I don't want to hear about their awesome little lives, but I do want to use personal writing as a bridge into critical thinking and analysis.