The following was written by my daughter Mariet for a school assignment. While not directly about communication, it is an interesting insight into how messages are received and interpreted by different types of people, in this case one very unique 10th grader. As communicators we need to reach and create meaning for everyone, including the Mariets out there.
Rebellion (and Essays)
by Mariet Kurtz
The assignment: write two pages looking at The Tempest from one of several “literary lenses” provided. The problem: All of the lenses really seem to me like they’re fishing for meaning. I mean, seriously. I can think of about a paragraph about each that explains why it’s pointless. The solution: Write two pages on why the “lenses” are all horribly pointless!
Next problem: Mrs. MacLean is not particularly happy (of course). “Mariet,” she says, “you have a gift for… pushing back at an assignment.”
This is very, very true. I have a gift for rebellion.
Back to the story. Mrs. Maclean tells me to rewrite it, pretending I actually believe what I’m saying, and e-mail it to her over the weekend. No problem. I write a paper and send it to her. Of course, I write it using the lens I was the most critical of.
I can push either way—I’m not picky.
There are some people in this class who are optimistic. Others are so cynical it’s a wonder they’re still making an effort. I’m sort of both, but I’m not necessarily serious about it. It’s just a way of broadening my horizons. By rejecting a way of thinking, I cause myself—and other people, too—to take another look at what they’re saying.
You see, I don’t rebel for the sake of rebellion. I’m trying to make sure I stay true to what I believe. If that means writing a paper in a totally different way, I’ll do it. For example, I don’t really believe in standardized testing for writing. In elementary school, I once received a testing prompt that went something like this: “What is your favorite place? Describe the place and why you like it so much.”
I wrote an amazing essay… about why I didn’t have a favorite place (which still holds true today, by the way. I don’t believe in favorite things, really.) Then, in 8th grade, on the writing SOL, the prompt was about bringing a dead person back to life to talk to for five minutes. For one thing, I don’t feel like talking to dead people. If I get an essay like this on a college application, I think I will scream. Secondly, I was not in the mood to write an essay about why I hated the topic, so I took a different route out this time: fiction. The proctor had mentioned that we could write fiction, after all. So I wrote something that basically made no sense because it was completely out of context, but was very well written.
Pass Advanced, I do believe. So whatever.
Another essay topic I will not write a legitimate and/or true essay about is absolutely anything involving time travel. Do the people who write these things have any idea how much of a paradox they’re creating? I suppose it all depends on what you believe about time travel, but some people are really very definite about it (as in it’s bad and messes up the past and/or present and/or future, depending on what you believe and when you’re traveling to). So I’m not even going to bother thinking about where/when/whatever, because I’m NOT GOING. It’s that simple.
What else don’t I believe in? The three-to-seven-paragraph essay format. You know, the one they taught you in elementary school? If you’ve forgotten, here are the rules:
- Each paragraph shall consist of no less than six sentences, each containing a subject and a verb.
- The first or introductory paragraph shall address the prompt and state one to five topics related to the prompt you will address, preferably in the same order you will address them in.
- The next one to five paragraphs will each address one of your previously stated subtopics. Multiple subtopics may not be combined into one paragraph. One subtopic may not take up more than one paragraph. Be specific!
- The final paragraph, or conclusion, will restate all one to five of your subtopics and how they address the prompt. Do not state new ideas! A thought-provoking final sentence is desirable.
- The number of subtopics is either one, three, or five, never two or four. The number of subtopics is determined by your grade—ask your teacher for specifics.
- You will never, ever use this format again in your sad, sorry life because it is so horrible! But you have to use it anyway or I, your teacher, will personally ensure that you never, ever pass this class.
Remember now? Do you recall the endless torture? Ah, yes! You do! This is why, as soon as I was in seventh grade, I swore to myself that I would never use such ridiculousness again. So I didn’t. (Note how I have turned my back on the “no fragments” rule—it has made my writing infinitely more interesting and effective! Take that, elementary school teachers!)
Um… wait. Back to the topic of rebellion, I guess. We don’t need to be cruel to teachers long past. I guess.
So, I will not write a paper on a topic I find repellent unless (and this is a very big and important “unless”) I can find a way to make the paper wittily sarcastic. Sarcasm, you see, is one the rebel’s most important tools. You can write a paper that, at first glance, seems to be about the topic, but is actually designed to express a burning dislike of whatever its topic is.
Try it—it’s surprisingly easy to rebel. Anyway, you might just find that you’re being a lot more honest!