Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where have I been? What have I learned?

I've just finished scoring 2,548 of the almost 200,000 tenth grade persuasion essays from one of our great states. Flashes of brilliance graced some pages. Painfully inept, immature, and inane self-serving thoughts on other pages made me want to stab my eyes with a sharp #2 pencil. Pro and con arguments inspired by the prompt question surprised me, and more than a few students rose above the prompt, suggesting that great leaders and thinkers in our society are still to be found in our public education system. I'm feeling better about our future.

"Ring, ring, ring...." "Bong, bong, bong...." "Clang, clang, clang...." Over twenty times these two-page essays started off with nearly identical openings for the first one, two, three, or more sentences with an alarm clock waking up Johnny or Susie or Jose to start a new school day. Many times I swore that I'd already read the paper (inspiring some deep-seated worries of classroom-wide conspiracies of copycatting). If that many students come up with the identical lines of thinking (and writing), uniqueness is doomed! MY writing is doomed!! With the millions of other writers out there, I AM DOOMED!!!

Finally, I'd find some tale tell difference in the essay, and I could score the paper based on strict guidelines on its own merits and not some lingering vestiges of prior papers of the same ilk. Some papers earned Bronx cheers and some were ready for Pulitzers.

Balance restored to the universe, I'm less worried about someone stealing the totality of my story lines, but more worried than ever that anything I write is utterly thematically not unique. And both worries are traceable back to these essays. It makes me wonder how many unique stories there really are? Yes, yes, I know. Depending upon who your guru is, there are really only 1, 3, 4, 9, or 15 plot lines (themes) for stories, but infinite ways of writing them. Or, is it infinite? Are those monkeys really out there pounding on a million typewriters for 10,000 years and creating Macbeth? It's keeping me up at night worrying.

In these essays and all stories, the overarching theme is: Someone wants something but must overcome obstacles to succeed. How can I possibly come up with something that a tenth grader hasn't already created?


FARfetched said...

LOL. Sounds like some of that 10th grade existentialist crisis mode rubbed off on you!

Ruth D~ said...

State exams? They do wonders for inspiring originality and creativity, don't they?