A Glass of Chianti

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Just getting something off my chest

From time to time, I have students who come into their weekly lesson unprepared. (Shocking, I know!) Sometimes, it's just plain laziness, but most of the time it's a case of time management and school papers getting away from the student. In these cases, when a student says that they couldn't practice because they were writing this or that paper, they will often ask me to read it and tell them what I think. This always puts me in an awkward position. I really do enjoy reading the papers, especially of students whom I have taught for a number of years. Invariably, the English paper will be an analysis of a book or short story. What passes for analysis seems to be one of two things:
1. A summarization of what happens in the story
2. A summarization of what happens in the story followed by a lengthy digression on how the story makes the student feel.

The problem is, of course, that those things aren't analysis at all. It wouldn't be so bad if the section on "how the story makes me feel" actually, well, analyzed the emotions. There is not discussion of any writing devices, not one word on style (in general) or point of view or (heaven forbid) word choice. These papers are just page after page of telling me exactly what happened in the book and then how the events make them feel (but never why it makes them feel that way or how the author went about drawing that reaction).

When it comes time for me to give my opinion, I always say the same thing, "I think that you will get a very good grade." It's true, of course. They always do (and that's the only thing they care about), but it makes me wonder why we accept this. To be able to take information and then reduce it to the important parts is an incredibly important skill to have. We shouldn't, however, call it analysis. It isn't.

Really, though, I just don't ever know what to say other than that. I know that my kids are generally going to go to the same type college that I did, and what passes in high school will be more than acceptable in their colleges. They aren't really ever going to be penalized for not knowing, but isn't it sad? Or does it really matter? My writing is terrible and it's a great burden to me, but do other people think about theirs? Do people even write outside of their jobs? I know that my father doesn't, aside from the occasional e-mail to me. My mother writes Christmas cards. For all the talk about analysis being an essential skill it doesn't seem to be if we're willing to accept something that doesn't even approach the definition.

*sigh* No more posting before work.