Monday, 20 May 2019

formulaic writing

This essay by David Labaree on the fetishizing of the five paragraph essay format by pupils and teachers alike, stressing form over content rather than unpacking how by learning the conventions and limitations of expression, one is liberated (“A grateful mind by owing owes not, but still pays, at once indebted and discharged; what burden then?” – John Milton Paradise Lost) is well worth reading in its entirety and has a wealth of take-away notions to consider.
Practising the forms and presenting a rote assignment that illustrates for the learner and listener how words hang together can be an important exercise but not when it’s perpetuated throughout journalism and academia—all structure, a convenient template (see also) with no conviction of argument, and no substance. Such constrained writing, even if the departure therefrom is at the risk of losing one’s audience and auditors, becomes a textbook case of Goodhart’s Law—named after London School of Economics Professor Emeritus Charles Albert Eric Goodhart and originally a critique of narrow economic goals and gauges, an adage paraphrased as “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”