What If I Want to Write Six Paragraphs?

As a math major1 who struggled with the formality of my English classes (diagramming sentences is a plot worthy of Dr. Evil), I found much to relate to in this post by an English teacher and published in, of all places, the National Council of Teachers of English blog.

The five paragraph essay was a core of my writing instruction from middle school through undergraduate work and I guess it must be still if she’s writing about it in 2016. In case you’ve forgotten (I had to look it up), this is a strictly-enforced writing structure consisting of an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs to support and develop your idea (never more than one idea!), and a concluding summary paragraph. Tell ‘em what you’re going to say, say it, tell ‘em what you said. I always suspected it was an artificial school construct since I rarely saw the form used in the real world.

So let’s just cut through the first two parts of her essay and jump to the last paragraph.

In conclusion, the five-paragraph essay is an effective way to remove all color and joy from this earth. It would be better to eat a flavorless dinner from a partitioned plate than to read or write a five-paragraph essay. It would be better to cut one’s toenails, because at least the repetitive task of clipping toenails results in feet more comfortably suited to sneakers, allowing for greater movement in this world. The five-paragraph essay, by contrast, cuts all mirth and merit and motion from ideas until there is nothing to stand upon at all, leaving reader and writer alike flat on their faces. Such an essay form is the very three-partitioned tombstone of human reason and imagination.

Yep, that pretty much summarizes my feelings.

Although I produced a lot of written material for my teachers in high school and college, I never really learned to write until I started blogging (we can argue about that “learned to write” part later) and had a good reason to. By that time I had long since forgotten the processes required in those academic courses, as evidenced by the rambling, often poorly thought out posts in this space.

However, I wonder how many students actually use the five paragraph essay format after they leave the academic setting. How applicable is it today in a world where so much material is produced for posting online, not for print?

But I’m a math major, so English teachers, tell me how wrong I am.