The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.
Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?
Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.
Some close reading/close writing ideas:
Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?
These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.
How would we go about introducing students to parody and satire? They are well-versed in memes and Youtube channels that provide so many examples and are masters at consuming media/humor. But how to create content? Perhaps I would pose the question to them: what angers, frustrates, or annoys them, and how would they like to create their own parodies? It’s important to point out parodies are not mean-spirited or bullying. What rules do they think are silly or goofy (I think the beloved yellow safety vest hall pass might their first target)?
And yes, while I think this is terrible, from a jester-level sense of humor, it is kind of funny:
From a historical standpoint, how has parody and satire changed the world? And it has, no doubt. Mocking rulers, institutions, sacred cows and laws, parody and satire help us all laugh so we don’t cry. And that makes us stronger.
This–this is why I am not sure I can be a History/Social Studies teacher anymore, and why I should be more than ever…
Ah, Internet. So bountiful, so giving: it allows students from all over the world to communicate, to understand and empathize with all kinds of species, including their own.
But a few weeks ago I hit a hard truth: sometimes I teach students whose values, beliefs, and systemic ideas take root in the worst examples of rhetorical blunderings. (Translation: I don’t agree with them, and have to check my own biases.) While I adamantly defend a students’ Constitutional Rights and remain effectually neutral, I am not sure I have the will or the strength to fight this brand of illogic: the conspiracy theorists.
Students love to bandy about The Illuminati, and shouting “Illuminati” is their go-to punch line, a warding off of evil juju, much like my ridiculous practice of tossing salt over my left shoulder. (Yes, I do that, and knock on wood. Stop it. You don’t know what calamities I’ve prevented!) Some theories are fun, such as these literary ones. (Well, I think they’re entertaining: and I think that Poe one being Cooped has merit.)
What is the real danger in believing a conspiracy theory? Those enduring ones, from the moon landing was fake to Obama’s birth certificate linger, and then get re-branded. Consider the Ted Cruz eligibility for being President. One legal argument from Mary Brigid McManamon says fairly clearly and logically, and more important,t legally, no, he’s not. This may have been in response to Jonathan H. Adler’s piece, also in the Washington Post prior to McManamon’s piece, that yes, Ted Cruz is. The author of this article provides an update and revises some of his original nuances or misinformation, so I give him credit for that:
UPDATE: Several readers object that this post simplifies what is, in actuality, a very difficult constitutional question. The precise original public meaning of “natural born citizen” may not be as clear as my post or the Katyal-Clement article suggests. For reasons why, see this 2010 essay by Lawrence Solum.
In contrast, McManamon states:
Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the power to naturalize an alien — that is, Congress may remove an alien’s legal disabilities, such as not being allowed to vote. But Article II of the Constitution expressly adopts the legal status of the natural-born citizen and requires that a president possess that status. However we feel about allowing naturalized immigrants to reach for the stars, the Constitution must be amended before one of them can attain the office of president. Congress simply does not have the power to convert someone born outside the United States into a natural-born citizen.
But is this a conspiracy theory? No, it’s a legal clarification and debate over wording and intent in the Constitution. That’s what our justice system does.
The researchers conclude that the diffusion of content generally takes place within clusters of users known as “echo chambers” — polarized communities that tend to consume the same types of information. For instance, a person who shares a conspiracy theory online is typically connected to a network of other users who also tend to consume and share the same types of conspiracy theories. This structure tends to keep the same ideas circulating within communities of people who already subscribe to them, a phenomenon that both reinforces the worldview within the community and makes members more resistant to information that doesn’t fit with their beliefs.
Confirmation bias holds the key:
Confirmation bias is the tendency of individuals to pay attention to or believe information that confirms the personal values and beliefs they already hold, rather than allowing their beliefs to be changed by new information.
So how do we truly help students, and ourselves, sort fact from fiction? Is it even possible?
My husband told me last night that the tapes of the moon landing were “lost,” and we were the last generation to witness the moon landing, and the memory is only in our minds. I had not heard about this, or even thought about it, because moon landings are in my own memory bank, clear and present. How is anyone going to believe us now?
Keep teaching. Keep learning. Keep connecting. And try to be a credible source.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)