The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

Clayton English Curriculum has room for improvement

For quite some time, the term “English class” has puzzled me.  After all, is English class like Spanish or French class?  Do we study grammar, tenses and vocabulary?  Of course we don’t.  Instead, the English curriculum focuses almost entirely on formal text analysis writing.  This is a major flaw in CHS’s philosophy of preparing students for their futures and needs to be fixed.

The fact of the matter is that unless you become an English teacher or professor, there is very little need for text analysis in the workplace.  Bankers, doctors, and lawyers do not make money by reading books and then writing essays pointing out the author’s use of figurative language and the underlying coming of age theme.  The ability to read and analyze is a valuable skill, but nine or ten critical analysis essays a year is beyond overdoing it.

Instead, English class should teach us more about the language itself.  The ignorance of grammar among teens is astounding.  We speak in slang and incomplete sentences and it comes through in our writing.  The “No Excuses List,” a list of the simplest and most basic grammar rules that students should be able to edit for, is constantly being disobeyed in students’ essays.  Incorrect apostrophe use, misspellings, fragments, and run-ons are abundant.  If the CHS staff really wants to prepare us for the world outside of school, we need to be taught the fundamentals of our language.  If they refuse to adjust to our needs here, then they should alter the curricula at Wydown or the elementary level.

In the more immediate future, the SAT and ACT are heavy on spelling and grammar, and Clayton students rely on their English classes to provide them with this knowledge.  As of now, though, we are clueless.  Many of my friends, myself included, had never heard of the subjunctive or past participle before Spanish class last year.  Even though we used them every day when we spoke, we had no idea what they were or how to formulate them.

In addition, English classes make it seem as if creative fiction is the only type of literature.  Memoirs and historical non-fiction in particular seem unduly absent from many classes’ syllabi.  Are they not valuable pieces of literature as well?  Though it may be more difficult to apply the standard analysis formula to nonfiction, this should be embraced as a breath of fresh air.

Nonfiction writing other than text analysis is also foolishly missing from the English classroom.  As students, few of us will become English teachers or novelists.  But many, if not most, of our jobs will require us to be able to write strong, coherent, nonfiction.  Whether that is a legal brief or an academic article, informative writing is imperative and yet not taught for a moment in freshman and sophomore level classes.  “English class” has become little more than a class devoted solely to the analysis of fiction texts.  This is completely impractical and is a massive loophole in the curriculum.

I realize that the curriculum is not likely to change any time soon, as critical analysis is the norm for most English classes across the country.  But if the English Department insists on focusing so heavily on textual analysis, they should at least allow students to really dig into what they have read.  Two weeks to read a text, a weekend to write an essay and another to revise it is not enough.  Though it may come as a surprise to some English teachers, students have busy lives.  We take hard classes, we play sports, we spend time with our families – we have lives outside of school that we are and will remain committed to.

Expecting students to generate truly valuable and insightful ideas, search through a text to support those ideas, and bring it all together in a laudable 1500-word essay in just a weekend is ludicrous.  Students should start with an outline, then a first and second draft, then a conference.  Jumping immediately to a rough draft only hurts the final product.  I would rather spend an entire quarter writing draft after draft of an essay if at the end I could walk with my chin up knowing that I had created something new and ingenious.  Ten rushed, mediocre papers is nothing to be proud of.

Though I hate to criticize a system that in most other ways serves its students well, it is necessary to point out the clear flaw in this school’s mantra of preparing its students for the future.  The English curriculum is far too one-dimensional, focusing almost entirely on text analysis and failing to address students’ needs.  As the nation moves towards reform, CHS must look inward.  It is time for the English Department to reevaluate its goals and fix the clear issues in need of redress.  Ironically enough, I learned that word in English class.

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Clayton English Curriculum has room for improvement