At the core of any meaningful endeavor or pursuit one undertakes are principles that one holds to be true. These principles, which drive one forward in that particular endeavor or pursuit and are necessary if one wishes to achieve excellence, form one's philosophy in that area. Without a philosophy one's goals, objectives, and the like are worthless and powerless. In the absence of a philosophy, one's efforts are mechanical and void of purpose.
The English classroom exists to enhance the student's expressive capabilities as they relate to--and to instill a lifelong appreciation of--the written and spoken word. These expressions could be fact or fiction, serious or silly, informative or narrative, or any of a number of possibilities. As human beings, we are constantly trying to express something to someone. If we are not able to be understood, we are not making what we could of our time here on Earth.
As an English instructor, it is my job to build upon the expressive skills that my students possess through various tasks in the realms of reading and writing. Each task, whether it is a simple vocabulary assignment or a complex analytical paper, refines the student's ability to express ideas and knowledge in writing. These tasks also work to create an appreciation for the power of language and to encourage the students to take part in the making and experiencing of verbal art.
This may sound rather lofty or idealistic, but how can one treat art as anything less than it is?
A Definition of Art
In the simplest terms, art is materials organized to be expressive. For the matter of explanation, let us turn to painting. A painter's materials would be items such as his paints and his brushes. One should consider the canvas a material as well. The painter then makes certain organizational decisions that affect what is expressed. These choices involve color, brushstrokes, use of line, and many other aspects of painting. All of these things come together to express something, whether it is an idea, a feeling, a reference to an object, whatever. The artist makes purposeful and deliberate decisions in order to create an experience in which the observer participates. Only art can do this. Only art can capture expressed emotions, ideas, et cetera, and save them for the next day or the next thousand years.
This definition applies to English as well. The materials are the paper, the pen, and the words. Choices must be made on how to organize these words so that the expression is clear, whether that expression is a current news item or an intense personal statement. Realizing this true nature of the written and spoken word and appreciating the power of language, then, have to be the ultimate goals of the English classroom. Once again, anything less is average.