Anyone who has been through high-school is probably familiar with the five-part-essay or something that is similar. This is an organizational writing method taught in many schools. For those who do not know, the five-part-essay consists of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion (see Fig. 1). Some teachers present it like a funnel, where the introduction starts wide and narrows into a topic and the conclusion reopens that funnel with further questions or responses for a reader to think about. Others present it like a sandwich or burger, where the introduction and conclusion are the bread and the middle three paragraphs are the contents of the sandwich (not all sandwiches are meat-based you know).
According to Bruce Bowles Jr., an assistant English professor at Texas A&M University, the five-part-essay (or as he calls it, the five-paragraph theme (FPT)) is designed for standardized testing (Bowles 220). Thinking back on my high-school years, I am now realizing that this is true. While it did help me organize my writing to some degree, I doubt that I could survive the rest of my life using the FPT to write. Some types of writing like blog posts, news articles, or even biographies would not hold up with an FPT. It is just too formal. Now I ask the American Teaching System, why do we prepare students for a test rather than for life? I am not saying that all topics taught in school are useless but teaching for a test seems to be more negative than positive. After college, there are not that many written tests that an individual would need to pass. In high school, you have the big one, the SAT, and other types of assessments, but after that, there is not too much. So why are we teaching a single method of organization only to be used once or twice on a test? I ask this question to make you, the reader, think about how useless this may be. In Bowles article, he argues the same thing. After all, his article was published in a book called Bad Ideas About Writing.
Bowles references a book by Bob Broad What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing for further reading and within the first few pages, Broad writes that writing should not be scored solely based on a rubric. Because of this, Broad shies away from rubric in practice because they leave out content that should be considered such as interested, tone, and/or legibility. He sees what students need to thrive; not a simple grade but useful feedback in order to further improve writing. Going back to my high school experience, I most of my teachers provided detailed feedback on my writing, but some did not. By feedback I do not mean just grammatical mistake catches, I also mean suggestions on further writing and how to better organize or synthesize and idea.
While I was able to have the privilege to go to a more esteemed high school than someone who may be in a lesser school, this presents the problem of learning and education gaps. Written by Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System talks about how poor and rural school systems may not be improved by an ‘American teaching system.’ Some places just do not have the resources to implement certain extensive programs and a lot teach for a test. This places a large gap between schools. Without getting into the stages of life, workforces, and more, some students are set-up for success more than others depending on where you went to school. She claims that separating school from culture and eliminating what she calls state work/national standards (Altschuler). This would be a start on the fight against the standardized test. It would help create a more equal environment for all students. There will always be students who are told to work harder to pursue their dreams, but what if they are already working to their best ability? These students need an equal opportunity as well. This is a situation where we do not need equality, but instead equity. Each students should be provided with the necessary means that they can do their best.
Not to criticize the professor that gave us this assignment, but we are told to write in the following format: an introduction, a body that follows what was laid out in the introduction, and a conclusion. Does this sound familiar? I do not disagree that most writing should have an introduction and conclusion, but for everyone to be restricted to not necessarily five paragraphs but instead a format like this can get tricky. It limits student’s creativity. Sure, if someone decides to go against this format, the writing might become messy and unorganized. Personally, I believe that writing should be thought of like art. There will always be people that judge your art; some will praise it, and some will hate it. That is just the way life works. When someone is ‘bad’ at art, they are told to practice. The same should be said for writing. Everyone should have some sort of writing proficiency and be able to utilize the tools they are given, just like with art. If we think of writing as an art, it should be graded based on emotions evoked as well as how it was composed just like art. But this is where it can become difficult because there will always be students who half-ass their work. Sure, writing is not for everyone, but institutions need to realize this.
Altschuler, Glenn C., and Diane Ravitch. “The 'Great American School System' Flunks Out.” NPR, NPR, 16 Mar. 2010, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124729332.
Bowles, Bruce. “Some People Are Just Born Good Writers.” Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E Ball and Drew M Loewe, Digital Publishing Institute, 2017, pp. 220–225.
Broad, Bob, "What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing" (2003). All USU Press Publications. 140.
About the Author
Penh Alicandro attends Eckerd College for Film Studies. He plans to graduate with the class of '22 and shoots photos and videos on the side of school. Once out of school, he hopes to land an internship or job with a media production company. Because he dabbles in graphic design as well, he is not sure whether to go with web design or solely a media company.