More on the Five-Paragraph Essay

While some of us are busy posting scanned images of detritus we find on the street, Mike over at Vitia is posting well considered prose about the five-paragraph essay, form, style, and Peter Elbow's recent piece in C3. This is something I like about blogs: they contain multitudes.

(You can also see Mike dialoging with Shelly on some of the realities of teaching the five-paragraph essay here.)

A while back, I posted a sort of end-of-year-teaching-thing about having students (seniors and juniors) in my courses write five-paragraph essays. In addition, I should say that I'm also "working" on an article on the five-paragraph essay, only I'm really not working working on it because I have this pesky book about field guides I'm trying to write. But! I did complete the lit review for the article back in December, and wrote 1/2 of the darn thing before ditching it to do something else, so I really should just finish it up.

Maybe this discussion will help.

Anyway, over at Mike's post mentioned above (excellently titled "Form, Space, and Synchronicity") Mike generously posts a portion of one of his old seminar papers, and I'll do something similar, linking to a kinda fuzzy pdf of a five-paragraph essay I wrote about the form in (was it really that long ago?) 2000.

(click to download the fuzzy pdf,
complete with possibly annoying didactic gestures
added by the textbook's really-quite-dear authors)

Anyway, what I was thinking then is not far from what I'm trying to say now (in the article about the five-paragraph essay I'm "writing"):
  • that even very rigid forms like the fpe have many elasticities

  • that by centering composition practice on innovation, we can teach students to exploit and invent such elasticities, even in the most "formulaic" writing

  • that this kind of composition pedagogy ends up teaching students ways to conform, too, if they want and/or need to

  • that an under-explored avenue in current alt-(academic)-dis involves syntactic play

  • that abusing the fpe as an overly rigid form of mind-control diffuses insight into similar rigidities within academic writing (at the undergrad level, but also at the grad and professorial level)

  • and, lastly, that bashing the fpe ignores labor and educational-policy realties in our current climate where, as they say, no child can be left behind

Anyway, so I posted my own twenty-five sentence five paragraph essay (above) to gesture to my own commitment to the idea that within constraints (specific word limits, say, or formal dictates) there are always ways for writing to be smart or smartish ... even moreso, sometimes, than prose that emerges from what we like to think of as the freedom from constraints. Of course, this assumes a pedagogical leaning toward innovative grooviness in student work, which is not always there, but I'm working on that one too. :)

Now: I've gotta go read Elbow's article; thanks for the tip, Mike.

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