Wednesday, February 29, 2012


"Upper East Side Bikes", oil, by Susan Cox
I often ask my students to write a “first draft” of an essay, but, as with so many words, I’ve never taken the time to carefully consider the meaning of these words – and “draft” has three meanings that are especially interesting. First, one dictionary says a draft is “a current of air in an enclosed area”. That brings to mind a picture of my students’ young minds, all sealed up and filled with various fears and worries, when suddenly some ideas for an essay pass through like an unforeseen gust of air, or “draft”. If they’re speedy about it, they can find the source of the draft, open it wider, and enjoy the free flow of thoughts as they begin their writing. A second definition of “draft” is “a team of animals used to pull loads”, and in this sense, my essay-writing students are like draft horses. It can be a disheartening task to drag four wagons called paragraphs, loaded with weighty ideas, all the way to the finish line of an essay – and often the road runs steeply uphill. This is why I drive my students so hard day by day in the classroom: I must train them to skillfully and smoothly pull enormous and cumbersome thoughts week after week. Finally, another curious definition says that “draft” can mean “to move, ride, or drive close behind a fast-moving object so as to take advantage of the slipstream, especially in a race”. This could be comforting to my students, for it would help them realize that they are writing their essays along with 20+ classmates, all of them pedaling together on their mental bicycles along the road of successful writing . As all serious cyclists know, if you stay in a pack the work is less painful, and you sometimes even feel like you’re effortlessly flying along. I must remind my students to stay together as they toil on their essays throughout the year. The road of fine writing may be steep sometimes, but drafting with friends can make the trip seem almost bracing, almost refreshing.

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