An essay forces you to think.
I know what you’re thinking. Don’t we think anyway, why do we need to write an essay to do what we do naturally?
Yes, we do think, but not sequentially and purposefully, and certainly not as deeply and profoundly as we are capable of, particularly if we want to change something, and most of all, if we want to change our lives.
When in the process of writing an essay, we take ideas and build upon them, much like building a house, where we take one brick and begin stacking other bricks upon the framework. However, unlike a predetermined structure, such as a house plan would no doubt have before the bricklayer begins mounting the bricks, the learner does not know where they will end up, they have no road map, no plan.
What the learner does know is they have some idea about the subject matter (topic), they may even have an opinion, but they certainly do not know what they are going to argue or how they will structure their argument.
It is this process of structuring the argument – a process that requires the student to carefully evaluate what information is valuable or relevant – that enables the learner to make links between different ideas. It is this link-making – connecting ideas between different areas – that enables the learner to understand and express new ideas. Without connecting these dots, like Steve Jobs says when we look back on our lives, we don’t see patterns, and if we are going to change our lives we need to be able to identify how these patterns contribute to our current situation.
Through the process of essay writing, particularly the research process, and the process of constructing a well-crafted argument, we are able to move beyond where we are.
When I look back on my own life, and connect the dots, I can see how through the process of writing essays, I experienced paradigm shifts, and it is these shifts that changed me as a person. Most of all, they have made me a better person. After analysing the ideas of others, and relating them to my own, I was forced to make changes in my preconceptions (changing what I thought I knew). Through time, I began to also make what is known as “conceptual leaps” that led to changes in my thinking and behaviour, and has led to where I am today.
This is what I want for everyone, and is what I nurture in all my students – the ability to grow and expand your mind. I know this “mind-expansion” can only come from the careful and deliberate thinking that comes from the research and writing process. Without this process, which is not easy (but nothing worthwhile is easy – insert parenting and working out here) we risk, at our peril, repeating the same thinking patterns that are not serving us.
The beauty of the essay writing process is that as you research subject area/s, you will encounter multiple perspectives, and as you delve into each of these points of view, your point of view will change – your mind will metamorphosise, transforming from a humble caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.
However, unlike the butterfly, you will continue evolving and adapting as your mind continues to make conceptual links throughout your life.
This is why essay writing is so incredibly important and why it remains a pivotal process within education – not to make our lives more difficult (and it can certainly seem this way in the beginning), but to give us the ability to make changes in our thinking, and it is only with this change in our thinking can we change our lives and our world.
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