Confessions of a Teacher

The Death of Reflection in English/Language Arts Classrooms

I had the saddest experience today. In English IV, British Literature, I assign my students a coat of arms assignment. They have to design a personal coat of arms on a poster then write about the color, animals, motto, and research their first and last name. They have to write an experience they went through that represents each of the elements on the coat of arms. It is a reflective piece. And my students have always enjoyed it. Or so I thought.
This year’s set of coat of arms papers has been the bare minimum. No personal stories. Just research about color symbolism and the animal’s representation. It broke my heart. Several of them refused even to turn it in. One even begged me, “Can I just write you an analysis paper?” Another came to me and said, “This is the hardest paper I have ever had to write. You made me deal with myself, and I don’t want to.” They don’t want to write about themselves? When did this shift happen?
We don’t let the students express themselves anymore. It is all textual evidence, reading strategies, and standardized testing. Now our kids do not know how to process emotions. When we redesigned curriculum for the “real world,” we forgot that emotions are part of the world. Our kids don’t know who they are anymore. They learn to research historical facts, and how to cite textual evidence, but they don’t reflect on themselves, and that is one of the most important things a person can learn.
We changed English from a subject of expression, and feeling to one of facts and analysis. Was it a wrong decision? I don’t know. All the standards say, “what the author states… or supports with textual evidence” etc. Never what the students believe and if they say it, they better back it up with a “real” source. Are they not real sources?
We have taken any way self-expression, and we wonder why our kids are depressed. English was once a class where students could write poetry, free-write, and express themselves using just what they believed. Now English class is a more of a history and science class full of hypothesis, nonfiction, and evaluation. They don’t write about themselves because it is not tested. Aren’t we tested every day by what we feel or what we believe? If our kids cannot write or think about what they believe and why they believe it, others will tell them what they should. The holes that are being created will be filled with hate, loneliness, and emptiness. We see the results when mental illness is untreated.
I am not saying research skills, historical documents, and ACT prep are not important, but should that be all our kids worry about? In every class. Every day? Could our kids have time to reflect on what is important to them? It may not raise a test score, but maybe they could learn to fill themselves up instead of looking for likes or followers to fill the empty spaces. It might make them realize that we are more alike than different and we should be kind towards others.
In our drive to obtain high test scores, college readiness, and SPS points, could we have forgotten that we are teaching young adults to survive in our complex society? Empathy and respect are fading, suicide and depression rates are rising. Could this be a reason? That English and liberal arts electives are being changed or pushed aside for research and ACT prep classes? It gives us something to think about.

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