Essaying

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A thoughtful gift from a student who remembered Tasha!

Having said goodbye to my seniors last week, today I gave my 1st period ninth graders their final exam, a written response to the question: What is the purpose of literature?

They did not know what the prompt would be ahead of time. Here are some of their thesis statements:

• Literature exists to reflect the variations in the human experience.

• Literature allows us to understand the complexities within ourselves, and in the world around us.

• The purpose of literature is to get people to listen.

• Literature confronts reality and explains it in a way that we can understand.

• Literature is meant to guide us in life, for it informs us, opens our minds to new possibilities, and enables us to change lives.

• The purpose of literature is to help us understand human situations, conflicts, and emotions.

• Literature creates ways for people to see and teach themselves about abnormal situations.

• Literature gives us a history of the world we could never know.

• Literature makes you wonder, think, and explore new ideas.

• Literature lets us take our intelligence and knowledge, and expand it into something greater.

• Literature inspires people to learn and allows many people to cross over from not wanting to be taught something to wanting to learn as much as they can about a topic.

I find myself continually delighted by my students’ perceptiveness and eloquence, and I’m looking forward to the last two days of school because I get to pose three more questions and read three more class sets of responses. (I’m being very careful to stay away from the word ‘essay’, which carries a weightiness and a dread for some students, let alone strict formal rules for what constitutes an Essay.  It’s a shame, really, because the word in the Montaigne-esque sense is what I want–an attempt to honestly and fully answer the question.)
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