As a home-schooling mommer, I routinely schedule writing assignments to my son which uses the classic five-paragraph essay construct. At fifteen, he’s not always thrilled. He thinks it’s a dull little template beloved only by college entrance examiners. But really, it’s so much more.
The five-paragraph essay is akin to the lines on a coloring page. Some, like me, try to stay within the confines, but ultimately veer onto the DCZ – decolorized zone. Other people will rigidly apply the royal blue inside that border for the rest of their lives. For a dedicated few, the lines are like artistic training wheels, allowing the eye to focus on the terrain and providing a gentle curb to an eager hand.
Eventually, the dedicated visual artist moves beyond the confines and recreates what she observes, her practiced hand owing thanks to the rein of discipline. She learns to realistically portray the complex equations of avian wing kinematics, and, in turn, I enjoy her watercolor hummingbird hovering for a sip of nectar. Discipline in the craft enables creative expression. Coloring within the lines – discipline’s most elemental form – stifles creativity only when it’s a place of final rest.
Similarly, the five-paragraph essay offers a mental framework in which to express, support, and defend an idea. While I can drill down to minute detail for descriptive purposes, its limited nature controls my personal excesses. Yet, it’s flexible enough that I can apply the precepts of my microcosm to the larger world.
Any medium requires foundational knowledge before we can ascend to mastery. Artistic paradigms, for a season, can provide a sturdy platform for growth. Rome wasn’t built in five paragraphs. But within this humble structure, my son can articulate the literary merits of Pliny the Younger versus Pliny the Elder. Provided he gave a rat’s patoot. I suspect he’d rather discuss Alien versus Predator. No matter, the five-paragraph essay works here, as well, and his money is riding on Predator.
P.S. Watercolor by Linda Lord