Reimagining Writing at Stuyvesant

Students should advocate for a departure from traditional English education and an entrance into diverse literary genres and creative writing assignments in order to foster innovation, creativity, and personal growth within the school community.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Sophia Li

Monotonous essay structures, ancient novels with flowery expressions, and the standard acronym for every body paragraph should prompt calls for innovation to echo through the halls of Stuyvesant’s English department. Every thesis essay about a book such as Homer’s The Odyssey or Nabokov’s Pnin is a valuable learning experience, but to a sleep-deprived Stuyvesant student, the constant stack of similar, dense novels in the syllabus puts them to sleep, discouraging them from engaging in their daily lessons and killing anticipation for the next assignment. Though students are not obligated to enjoy writing, Stuyvesant’s curriculum doesn’t even provide them the opportunity to fall in love with it. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with structured essays or global classics. In fact, they’re a helpful guide for writers to build fundamental skills. Improving and correcting tense usage, punctuation, and even fluidity of writing are skills often easier to cultivate through thesis essays due to their linear and objective nature. Such skills that accompany these assignments can teach students about argumentation and analysis, and they’re often easier for students who would rather have a rigid guide. However, English classes can overemphasize the importance of these skills and, in turn, neglect the value of creative writing. 

Overlooking the benefits of creative writing prevents a student from being able to learn the skill sets that accompany it. Creative writing takes a level of craftsmanship that thesis essays typically lack, using two of the most valuable and fleeting qualities of youth—imagination and curiosity. Instead of solely emphasizing clarity and factual accuracy, creative writing focuses on artistic expression, character building, literary devices, and a plethora of other skills in order to evoke emotions, thoughts, or vivid imagery. Despite their abstract nature, these skills can cultivate students to think outside the box and build new worlds that require complex character analysis. In a way, creative writing based on a text can be the highest form of analysis—paralleling the techniques found in a novel in a student’s unique story demonstrates full understanding. 

In Stuyvesant’s competitive and STEM-focused environment, it’s difficult to find the time to introspect and self-reflect. However, English assignments can be the time for rumination, as writing an original narrative or poem forces students to pay attention to aspects like tone and audience while also exploring themselves. In turn, being able to reflect on oneself in writing allows students to understand themselves better and allows teachers to learn more about them. Creative writing is where student voices especially shine, from tone to culture to personal beliefs. In an English classroom with around 30 students and only one teacher, a piece of introspective creative writing can help students and teachers create a connection on a more personal level. 

There’s a difference between simply writing and investing time in creative writing, which fosters traits of an active imagination, intellectual curiosity, and an inclination towards exploration. A study on the Psychology of Creative Writing found that those who don’t enjoy creative writing don't necessarily lack the aforementioned traits but rather, demonstrated that qualities such as open-mindedness, imagination, and even impulsiveness are common in those who pursue creative writing. In Stuyvesant’s monotonous environment, where everything from essays to AP exams are formulaic, creative assignments provide a chance to be introspective on a deeper level. For example, my third writing assignment of sophomore year was a rumination paper based on how I see myself and how I apply the values in the Tao Te Ching to my life. Through this assignment, I was able to delve into my experiences and grapple with my fears of fate to truly understand why I think the way I do and what fuels my distaste for the belief in destiny. It was a chance at personal growth that no other subject could provide. 

The reasons to emphasize creative writing aren’t limited to just ideas of self-gratification and growth but also improving cognitive flexibility by promoting critical thinking and challenging students to generate their own unique stories and narratives. Furthermore, creating a new character, world, and story activates the body’s limbic system, as found by Germany’s University of Greifswald researcher Martin Lotze, who explored the actions of the human brain when writers produce their own stories. He found that regions of the frontal brain become more active while writing a story since the author must juggle characters, plot, and a creative world. A blank page can be daunting, but the chance to create one’s own guidelines for their writing is a deeper experience and a chance to develop complex cognitive skills. For students, creative writing can help them explore their identities and strengthen their memories. Through creative writing, students have the opportunity to explore who they are as both individuals and learners. Therefore, writing, at its essence, should be an extension of oneself, a multi-sided blade to sharpen so that it can result in exactly what a student wants to convey, whether it be an emotion, argument, or theme.  

Creative writing can become ambiguous when it comes to grading and rubrics, but there should always be an overarching goal or skill a creative writing assignment aims to achieve. For example, one of my most recent assignments on Nabokov’s Pnin was a creative vignette with inventions to reveal something about a character and emulate Nabokov’s descriptive and eccentric detail. It was required to include extensive sensory details and make references to Nabokov. Since every student has a different writing style and different life experiences, it can be difficult to measure the extent to which a student delves into their beliefs or embodies an author. Instead, teachers should emphasize criteria flexibility and focus on both constructive and positive feedback to justify both high and low grades. When it comes to creative writing, teachers should also recognize the process of creating an introspective, original piece. Student engagement in the stages before writing a first draft, including class discussions and brainstorming sessions, should be factored into the final grade. The process of students learning about themselves is often the most valuable outcome, and integrating creative writing into English curricula can be helpful in changing the way society views high school writing. 

Society is often a stickler for tradition. It orients everything from education to conversations to relate to occupations while emphasizing practicality. However, English teachers have the unique opportunity to cultivate more self-aware and innovative students by exposing them to different genres of literature and themselves. Poetry, essay novels, and books outside of classic American or European literature earlier in our curriculum can inspire students to reflect on the different styles in their writing and expand their own interests. In my freshman year, I found myself writing essay after essay, consequently discouraging myself and other younger students from pursuing the boundless opportunities in English. The English department should provide both analytical and creative writing options on major assignments in order to accommodate writing preferences and promote exploration so that students can discover their writing style. For example, a final assignment on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet could include either a thesis essay, a performance piece, or a parody play—simply another means to demonstrate understanding. English teachers should also promote genres from comic books in the syllabus to add artistic and multimedia options. After all, sitting down and typing on an empty Google Document can be daunting. 

By bidding farewell to the confines of traditional English education and embracing the possibilities of creativity and self-expression, society and education will nurture a culture for creative writing alongside analytical essays. Integrating creativity and diversity in writing can empower students to become not just skilled writers but storytellers, poets, songwriters, and the imaginative thinkers of the future.