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AN ESSAY ON ESSAYS
Why do we require students to write essays during their secondary school and college matriculation? Many complain that they'll never have to use this skill post-graduation. For a few, this is a fair point. The argument might reasonably be made that after a certain age, students should be able to choose a non-academic or trade route and not have to engage in the written arts again. However, one of the major goals of the public education system, as well as most post-secondary education, is to develop well-rounded citizens, capable of more than just earning a living. To be an educated voter and active participant in a democratic society, it is necessary to both know how to understand what one reads and how to convey in writing one's own opinions. Again, then, why the essay, in particular?
Let's begin by examining the word itself. Merriam-Webster defines the word essay as "an analytic or interpretive literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view." The root of the word is the French word essai, a term coined in the late 1500s by the French writer Michel de Montaigne. That word means an attempt, a try, or an endeavor; the writer was highlighting that his writings were not necessarily definitive but merely his attempts to examine the subjects at hand. His were not the first such writings, but the term synonymous with this type of writing found its roots there. For more on the history of the essay, see the article found https://www.britannica.com/art/essay from Brittanica.com.
Why does that matter to us today? Well, the whole point of the essay is that it is a means whereby one human can convey in writing to another human their thoughts on a subject. Whether it is informative (telling someone how to do something or about a particular topic), persuasive (attempting to make your point in an argument), or entertaining (designed to lighten the mood), the essay is still the most common means to convey such thoughts. Contemporary society may prefer to make a video. However, that technology is not always the best or most appropriate means of conveying such information. Today, the essay is most often used as a means to convey one's social or political beliefs, often in satire, but it is also used in many other ways.
For these reasons and many more, the essay remains a staple of the educational milieu. The often-expressed sentiment, "Words are hard," is only true if one is not practiced in the art of using them, or in some cases if one is overly tired. That's why we make our students practice, honing skills they don't know they will need but which we know they one day will. So, essay on, my friend! You never know if you can until you try!
For more examples of essays, see my website, PappawPyle.com.
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