The Five Paragraph Essay and Critical, Formative Thought

In K-12, I never had much experience with the typical five paragraph essay, nor did I think much of its importance until one renegade of a sort of English teach, whom seemed to teach and rotate on her own independent academic axis, used as such in her classroom in the form of monthly essaic competitions. Winner received a 10% bump to their grade and their name tacked to her classroom’s proverbial ‘wall of fame.’ As a student at that given period, I felt establish and competent with my prose; I felt like I knew how to write, and what I wrote was both of feasibility and prowess. Needless to say, with a competitive streak garnered from sports and a wide range of topics to write from, in four of our six monthly competitions, I won. I even had the daring for my final project to take on a ten page essay later on defining ‘art.’ However, outside of what I already knew of critically formed writing, there wasn’t much left for me to learn from the five paragraph essay. But likewise with academia in writing, the five paragraph essay as a convention has a purpose and a place in its use and meaning in instruction. I would even be daring enough to same that a similar ideology of both habit and thought can be paralleled analogously with the likes of authors and creative writing.

How so? Both in separate imperatives from each other relate to certain forms specific to their genres or sub-genres of writing. The five paragraph essay in its place is meant to help foster the initial contemplations/ pospulative thought of authentic, critically inquiry and response to given subjects, ideals, beliefs and scenarios. Why should there be a death penalty? What is the merit of natural law ethics? is a democratic oligarchy any better  or worse than a communist-based oligarchy? Can a person be intrinsically good, or fall to the compromise of just having good intentions instead? Rather than rely on quotes from a textbook, the foreign summaries and opinions separate of the student, part of the challenge in imperative of the five paragraph essay to some depth of level is to help foster a genuine, authentic, original response to such critical questions and to thus, develop a skilled, independent level of articulate thought so that students may refine and harbor in their own attribution of personal beliefs and values that the alternate set of values separate from the likes of religion among other that traditional academia is meant to provide. In a world of social media, where connection is 130 characters or less, and hashtags and emojis are the primary symbolic image-based means of communication that a great deal of millennials value as their most commonly practices and possibly only schema of written connection, I think that is something important to keep in mind.

Creative writing is similar as well in the sense of form that a writer follows. There are rules, how dialogue is spaced from conventional paragraphs of prose, the rise and fall of the exigency of the story arch, the protagonist or protagonists and the development their narratives undertake. While having a greater deal of autonomy in thought and process, there is still a great deal of concision and challenge to writing fiction. Learning to write in whatever given form that maybe specific to major or career profession is just as valuable in experience to match diversity and learn of possible techniques/ commalities of quality that carry from one form of writing to another. The real parallel to me, however, is in that same critical thought to form a character in the genesis of their story much like the retort or response to a critically provoking question that force a writer in turn of query to be engaged in an active, unique acts of both question and genuine reaction native to their own ideals/ thoughts to that specific situation.

While I don’t mean to defend or condemn any means of writing/ communication, I do believe the original purpose of what the five paragraph essay still remains to have value, and within that said value, there should be a certain premise of respect given to the nature of its place as well.

  1 comment for “The Five Paragraph Essay and Critical, Formative Thought

  1. kjaxon
    February 18, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    You really captured the feel of the familiar timed-essay prompts: “Why should there be a death penalty? What is the merit of natural law ethics? is a democratic oligarchy any better or worse than a communist-based oligarchy? Can a person be intrinsically good, or fall to the compromise of just having good intentions instead?” Made me smile.

    I like how you compare these forms to creative writing. It seems like we see the forms in something like poetry as a challenge that is playful…something we can conquer. But the 5P essay feels like shackles. The constraint of the formulaic essay does not feel like play in the same way that writing a sonnet does…

    thanks for the thoughtful post

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