A Reflection On The Subjectivity of Writing

Proper English literature is dependent on many different variables that can either please or displease the reader. Different readers, since all humans are inherently unique in preferences and tastes, want different things out of what they are reading. This statement is especially important to students taking writing-oriented classes because they must try to please their most important critic in the class: the teacher. Teachers, just like other regular people, come from all walks of life, and there are reasons for their literary preferences. Through grade school, middle school, high school, and into college, students jump from teacher to teacher, from expectation to expectation, becoming resourceful and flexible as a result.

Writing skills for most students begin in grade school. Elementary school students start with the alphabet which eventually translates to spelling, pronunciation and meaning of words. Words within literature are very important, and developing a strong vocabulary is the key to exceptional writing. Students throughout elementary school expand their vocabulary, eventually leading them to the creation of coherent sentences. Students typically begin with short, choppy sentences that often get straight to the point and complete the given task. For example, if the student is asked, “How would you describe the clouds?” the student may respond with a simple response such as “The clouds are white” Grammar and punctuation is also introduced in elementary school. However, the marks used are very basic like periods, question marks, and maybe commas. Once third, fourth, and fifth grade come around, the students typically have written a few essays that involve much direction via the teacher and very little autonomy. The elementary schooler’s writing experience in grade school is about learning very basic skills to begin creating longer essays in middle school. The students are given limited creative freedom when writing, so there is very little criticism and subjectivity shown by the teacher.

Middle school is when the heat turns up for students and subjectivity comes into play from the teachers. Depending on the proficiency of the student’s writing and reading, a student may be placed in a different level English class. Regardless of the difficulty level of the course, the student will begin long form essays that can be multiple pages in length. Middle school is a dramatic time in a student’s life because they are bestowed so much freedom all at once. No longer is the student told to be the leader or the caboose of a line. Now, they are in charge of their own attendance to their next class. This new freedom to roam the halls at their leisure is accompanied by liberty within their writing. Imagine looking at a singular line on a graph. The graph is showing a positive relationship and on the X axis there is “freedom in writing” while on the Y axis there is “subjectivity”. There is a positive relationship between freedom and subjectivity. As liberties are granted in writing, there is often an equal growth in subjectivity. Although liberties are being given, often an objective is still supplied by the teacher. Students may get to conduct their own chosen experiment in science and write about their findings. Students may be told to choose a time period in America and write about that time period. Though students are granted some freedoms, they still must abide by the rules of structure within writing. In The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, structure is “equated with form” and structuralism is the idea “that all elements of human culture, including literature, may be understood as parts of a system of signs.” Structure may have been touched upon in elementary school, but the importance of an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion are emphasized in middle school. An essay may seem well structured with all of the bells and whistles by one teacher, while simultaneously being seen as messy and lackadaisical by another.

The bond or clash, depending on your experience, between high school English and college English is the part that scrambles many students’ brains. In high school and college, structure is an absolute necessity or the piece of writing is bound to receive much criticism by any teacher. High school is when teachers’ ideals begin to clash in some cases. For instance, I had an eleventh grade English teacher who had very high standards for writing. However, my twelfth grade teacher was much more lenient about structural issues, grammar, and I didn’t require a lengthy vocabulary. Freshmen year of college was an extreme shock as the expectations from that English teacher were even lower. Since then I have experienced many different kinds of English teachers, all with different views. From what I have gathered, my experience is not that dissimilar from that of the average high school and college writer.

Writing for a teacher is like cracking a code. The writer may never crack that code before moving on to the next code that needs to be cracked. Students may resent their teachers for having insurmountable or miniscule expectations, but even the most profound writers have their critics. Subjectivity is not a bad thing. It is not only within every teacher, it is within every human. It is the job of the student to try to meet those subjective needs. The positive aspect of subjectivity is that if a student cannot succeed with one teacher, all hope is not lost. They may be able to succeed with another. Subjectivity drives peoples’ opinions and criticism of a writing piece which can be used to strengthen the writer’s work.

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