I’m not sure how these lies got started. I’ve worked with many English teachers, and most of them are legit, yet I constantly hear lies from people – lies they learned as gospel truth from some blasted English class. I want to beat those lies out of them. Since beating someone for spreading lies about 5-paragraph essays doesn’t make much sense, I guess I’ll settle for a blog post instead.
Here we go. Lies you learned in English class:
1. The only books worth reading were published over 50 years ago.
Somehow, people associate English teachers with “only reads classic novels.” English teachers tend to communicate their opinions freely (and eloquently), so we might get caught spewing an angry diatribe about Bella Swan. This doesn’t mean all English teachers hate contemporary literature. Still, others live and die by the definition of a good novel by saying: “It has to stand the test of time.” Those teachers stick with the dead white guys. And it’s a big mistake.
2. All Essays Should be 5 Paragraphs.
“I’m going to write an essay about why birds are awesome. First of all, they chirp, which is cool and stuff. Second, they fly, which is awesome. Third, they eat worms, which is gross to us but great for them. And that’s why birds are awesome.”
This might be a reason so many people stop writing after high school. This is what happens when teachers and then students perpetuate the lie that all essays must follow strict guidelines and must have 5 paragraphs. Please read this post about why English teachers should ditch the 5-paragraph essay as well as other formulaic writing. Writing needs structure. It needs clarity. It doesn’t need 5-paragraphs.
3. You can’t start a sentence with “because,” and you can’t end one with a preposition.
Teachers give beginning writers frameworks like this to avoid reading junk like:
“Because I’m writing a paper about birds being awesome.”
Because they do not want to keep reading these types of sentences, some English teachers ban “because” at the beginnings of sentences. Therefore, students graduate high school believing they should never start a sentence with because. And that is something up with which I will no longer put.
4. Fahrenheit 451 is a book about censorship.
Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel follows the life of firestarter Guy Montag and his journey from book-burner to book-lover. Junior high and high school classrooms the world over read this novel and emphasize its themes of censorship, Big Brother-type governments and intellectual witch hunts. They marvel at Bradbury’s ability to predict our current society, creating versions of flat-screen televisions, reality television, iPods, and society’s dependence on drugs to numb harsh realities of life.
However, even Bradbury himself stated this novel is not a cautionary tale about the dangers of censorship and an intrusive and controlling government (though, I will agree those themes are present). In fact, it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of not reading – about becoming too dependent on television, which, according to Bradbury, numbs the collective intelligence of a population.
5. “The Road Not Taken” is a poem about being unique.
Read the poem in its entirety. There wasn’t a road less traveled. There was a road not taken.
The speaker in the poem sees a fork in the road – a metaphor for making a decision, choosing a path, what have you. The speaker notes how both paths seem equally appealing, “And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.” The speaker chooses a road, saving the other one for another day, but doubting he would actually ever return to this same road (decision) again.
Then, the speaker says, “I shall be saying this with a sigh someday ages and ages hence. Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less travelled by And that has made all the difference.” Did you catch that? The speaker sighs. Not a nostalgic, “Yes I made the right decision” sigh. It’s an “Even I’m not convinced what I’m saying is something I believe” sigh.
Frost was cunning. He wrote all of these lovely poems about leaves and roads and snowy evenings and fences needing mending, but he was also deeply cynical and incredibly dry in his observations. So, you can read the poem as, “Yes. I am awesome, and I took the road no one was willing to take. Because of my awesome decision-making skills.” But you’d be kidding yourself.
Take down your poster with the autumn canopy of trees shading a wooded path and the scrawling quote taken completely out of context. And go read more Frost. Dude was a genius.