Constant push to create new ideas reduces opportunity to dive deep into subjects, gain expertise

If I had to pin down one big issue in how my classes have been going lately, it’s the endless need to provide content for assignments such as essays.

In fields like English or humanities, there’s always a push to write or make something in a way that’s original (or at least theoretically your own). For instance, English classes tend to cover a diverse range of topics, and in each you’ll of course be expected to develop your own argument about one of those topics. There’s so many great things about that, and about practicing expressing oneself, but that definitely does not mean that this constant creation is not without its flaws. The main problem here is that, sometimes, you just don’t have a response to something. And while it is good practice to create and keep creating, sometimes students just hit slumps where there’s not really much to be said. To focus on papers in particular, it’s easy to run into scenarios where you just don’t feel strongly enough to have a consequently strong argument. 

Now, granted that’s just part of any field, and lacking ideas to implement is always going to be an issue at some point. (You hear about “writer’s block” frequently enough, for instance.) But it’s difficult when educational success is reliant on constantly coming up with these ideas in some sense or another, and I think we need to start asking ourselves if that’s a reasonable expectation and, if it’s not, what the alternative is. 

Part of the issue seems to be that repetition is necessary for practice, so of course classes include it, but at the same time having multiple classes then requires students to have their mind focused on many different topics at once. (It’s not just classes either, but also work or student organizations that require a lot of thought.) So, at any given point a student could end up working on multiple papers or projects that deal with multiple different ideas. That overlap can get pretty overwhelming; it’s similar to how many students wish they could have professors coordinate papers so they could spend more time on one or another. Having multiple papers at a time can leave you struggling for ideas, especially if you’re just not particularly into one subject, which is inevitably going to be the case from time to time.

I would argue that having fewer, but more prolonged projects can help alleviate some of these issues. Working throughout the semester on one, more in-depth project lets students work more thoroughly on one idea instead of having to come up with multiple. That way, there’s still ample opportunity to practice skills and explore relevant topics, without the need to have an opinion on everything. Besides that, going more in-depth on one idea allows students to develop expertise on that topic.

Granted, I’m not suggesting that this method is not without its own flaws. However, I do think that emphasizing this method more often than not and limiting other responses to something more brief and exploratory could help the scenario. At any rate, keep in mind that even the best students can’t just endlessly generate ideas until they graduate.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.

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