In high school English classes, students are instructed to address prompts objectively, avoid using the word “I,” and most importantly, leave personal opinion out of the essay. Fearing deductions from anal English teachers, students would ensure to substitute any mention of themselves with the word “one” and attempt to address a general audience. Many students in Advanced Placement English classes also learned that high school teachers rewarded those who correctly used sesquipedalian words only English professors know the definitions of, so much of the essays written by such high school students are pomp, verbose, and full of run-on sentences that make the writer appear smarter.
However, many high school English teachers fail to realize the blatant contradiction in this method of education. The purpose of learning a language is master how to properly communicate your opinion, the very thing high school essays lack. Professional writers– authors, journalists, bloggers, even scriptwriters– all want many people to read their writing, and it is counterintuitive to teach a bunch of high schoolers how to write esoteric essays on the poetic and rhetorical analysis of a 5th century epic poem Beowulf. Who’s going to read these essays? English professors?
Although I value my experience of writing such essays, personal input from the writer is essential to an opinionated writing piece, and it actually requires a substantial amount of effort. Like an art, considerable steps have to be taken to weave personal opinions into a thesis, so that the paper is not peppered with a million phrases like: “I believe, I think, I argue…” This was a skill I unknowingly developed in these two quarters of the Critical Thinking and Writing series exploring the lens of Food, Self, and Culture. The English teachers I’ve had in the past would recoil in disgust seeing how many I’s I have used, how little SAT words I have used, and how casual my tone is. They would also remark that the controversy I discuss in these essays are mundane too– as I have written about topics ranging from the normalcy of eating pig feet to drinking cold or hot water during a meal to making assumptions about other people’s character.
However, is an essay weak simply because it addresses a seemingly meaningless and everyday topic? Are the topics relating to people of high education and intelligence the only matters relevant for discussion?
Through my study about food, animal cruelty, the action of eating, and sustainability throughout these past two quarters, I learned that there is always more about any topic than what meets the eye. As I ventured deeper into these highly controversial topics for the sake of writing my essay, I discovered a new piece of myself I never took notice of before. Looking back now, each and every one of these self discoveries I made within every essay I wrote for this class are all dear to me. Even though this CTW 2 class has not been a standard English class where I read a difficult or antiquated book and say something smart about it, the skills I have attained in this class are valuable to me as self-expressing writer.
The first and most important thing I learned from this class is how to conduct research. For one of the essays, I wrote about the health effects of BPA and how the food industry attempts to hide information and research showing BPA’s health concerns for the sake of making money. To support my thesis, I sifted through nearly a hundred pages of differing documents, including but not exclusive to research reports (Hartle), scholarly articles (J Pant), news articles (Howard), and podcast transcripts (“A Case…”). Even though these documents were not difficult to comprehend like a Shakespearean sonnet would be, they still took time to read and utilize the information gained through research to support my thesis. In a way, the process of writing research essays is similar to that of writing a poetic analysis. Instead of using the poem given to you by the teacher, to prove your thesis, you have to go off and find your own materials to help prove your point. However, just because the materials used in research essays typically are easier to read than poems does not mean it requires less effort and intelligence to transform information into a cohesive argument.
In fact, it might be even more difficult to form an argument with support that are so different from each other. In my other essay about making assumptions about other people, I discussed the confusion between making assumptions in academia like in the Scientific Method and making assumptions about other people’s character based on physical appearances. For the first time, I used a concept I learned in my math and computer science classes, mathematical induction and recursion (Odifreddi), as support for my thesis.
It was not like I was required to use a concept from a completely unrelated subject as support for my thesis. After two quarters of thinking broadly about my essay topics and exploring many different methods of information gathering techniques, such as conducting surveys and interviews, I saw a perfect chance for me to use my field of study in computer science to provide a unique insight only people who have studied computers can make. (I also had an ambition to show that programmers didn’t just know how to write code.)
Given the flexibility to write about virtually any topic and support it using any means, I felt that I had really grown as a writer by using my imagination to think diversely about a topic and make things interesting by introducing a concept not commonly associated with English papers. Through this process, I challenged myself and learned more about my limits as a writer. No matter how difficult it was to explain the recursion to non-programmers, I learned that as long as I take considerable effort to communicate the message using anecdotes and examples, it could be done. I am very grateful for this class because it not only taught me how to write better, but I also have a better idea of how to express my views to a wider audience.
This shows the power of language and how it is supposed to be used. Concepts such as recursion and mathematical induction are difficult to understand, but we shouldn’t limit the amount of people who understand these methods of forming deductions to a select few (programmers and college-level mathematicians). Good writers, I learned, also have the most people willing to read their work. Words should be used to address a large audience and there is much power in having the capability to move a crowd with your writing than impress a few intellectuals with your fancy language.
More important than fancy language is the ability to persuade, and many would argue that the key to persuasion is confidence. Through this class, I have also developed a stronger writer’s voice and developed the courage over time to assert my position on one side of a controversy. Contrary to how I perceived myself in high school, where I was just one of many writers who used long words in my essays, I am now a writer capable of using my own voice to write essays based on my own distinctive experiences.
I am truly thankful of Professor Leither at Santa Clara University for pushing me in ways that allowed me to improve my writing skills.
“A Case For Cash Donations, Instead Of Cans.” NPR. NPR, 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 02 May 2017.
Hartle, Jennifer. Navas-Acien, Ana. Lawrence, Roberts. “The Consumption of Canned Food and
Beverages and Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations in NHANES 2003-2007.” Elsevier
Inc. Oct 2016. Web. 8 May 2017.
Howard, Jacqueline. “Canned Foods Linked to BPA Risk in New Study.” CNN. Cable News
Network, 29 June 2016. Web. 02 May 2017.
J, Pant. SB, Deshpande. Acute toxicity of Bisphenol A in rats. NCBI. pubmed.gov. Jun 2012.
Web. 8 May 2017.
Odifreddi, Piergiorgio and Cooper, S. Barry, “Recursive Functions”, The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford
University. 11 May 2011. Web. 21 May 2017.