Well, I started the textual analysis paper today. I've been telling the students about the paper all week with what the literary types call "Forshadowing." The textual analysis is something the students have never had to do before. They have been able to write papers about themselves, summarize works they've contacted and regurgitated ideas on paper for a quiz. They've never had to THINK before. I explained the textual analysis, and I could see a look clouding over each of them. It was a sort of confused fear like if someone ran into the room and shouted that there was a box full of puppies on fire outside the building. Should we do something? Why did he run in here? Are we responsible for this? Is the box on fire or are the puppies on fire?
It looked like I had just brought them all out to the pool before they learned to swim and then gently pushed them away from the edge. They all had that "I'm going to die" look in their eyes.
When I introduced the textual analysis unit last semester (and this semester) I started off with the assignment sheet, then I walk them through an analysis of Jimmy Carter's essay in Lunsford Rusc. The students were doing an okay job, today. They would give a few points, furtively testing the water to see if they could, indeed, float. "It seems like a lot of his points are opinion," eyes wide, glancing up at me for approval. "I'm just not a big fan of Jimmy Carter." Will pretends to lose interest and casuall mark on the corner of his book. Then, Bryce asked the dreaded question: "Do you have an example?"
My philosophy of a model essay is that it is something a high school teacher uses to "teach" with after they have told their students they should put a comma in whenever they pause. Model essays are for people who can't teach and don't want creativity. A model essay is something you hand-out to the students with the unspoken subtext being, "I expect your papers to be as much like this one as possible. The less your paper is like this one, the lower your grade will be."
But, I looked out over the students who had shown up for class. Half of them were gone as there was something of a micro-blizzard which swept through Missouri the day before, but was almost entirely melted by five o'clock. They wanted the model essay. They wanted the cookie cutter. They wanted their paper to fit in and thus not stand out. I felt like they were asking me to make them the store managers of area McDonalds'. I wanted to scream, "Don't you want to at least try? You can do this! It's just the first day. We can all do this our own way!"
So, what's the verdict? Should I give them their model essay? Am I being irrational by wanting them to be creative and individual?