Critical essays are the stupidest thing that exists. You read a piece of work and you analyze what had happened inside the piece of writing. You’re sucking bullshit out of your finger to prove to the teacher that you know why so and so said this and so and so said that. You show them that you understand how the characters felt, you show them that you understand the punchline behind the piece. You back up your explanation with quotes you remembered from the piece of writing.
What you don’t do is tell the teacher how the writing changed you, how you became a different person after reading it. You don’t write about how you connected with the characters, you don’t write about whether you agree with the characters’ morals. You don’t analyze the writer’s worldview, their life experience, the purpose behind writing the piece. You don’t get to chose what you write about. I understand the whole concept of challenging the student to write based on the prompt, but the prompt sets you up for only a limited number of themes within the writing. So you come up with a generally unique idea which in fact is a complete recapitulation of what’s already there. You don’t expand, you don’t grow, you are trapped in the box of an English class.
So this makes me wonder, is English really an ARTS class? Do you express yourself, or are you just working to impress the teacher? And IF it’s an ARTS class, why is it so thoroughly judged by a teacher? Have you ever seen a painting be judged by another painter? Sure you may have different styles, one artists may have a more realistic approach towards their works which ultimately calls for more appreciation, but they will NEVER look down on another artist’s work. And this is the class which is so crucial to have an excellent grade in, in order to get into university. Students leave that class, happy that they never have to face injustice again. But they also leave drained and scared of the whole concept of literature and writing. They lose appreciation of it. And worst of all, they lose the ability to enjoy books, poetry as they are used to associate it with a kiss-ass attitude of interpreting the writing as the teacher wants them to.
Fact is, for an English language arts teacher to become one, they had to be one of those students who didn’t mind being limited to the request of summarization and interpretation of the works, then they had to be the students who got a major in Language Arts, and since they actually have not been able to succeed in anything writing-related, they become a teacher. People with shit jobs and a low self-esteem which causes them to pour out their dissatisfaction of life onto the student whose fates these teachers are puppetting with. I know ONE teacher who was a REAL English teacher. A man who was truly born for the job. And for that I am thankful, for now I know when I am treated like shit and what it’s like to be not.