What many people don’t realize about the so-called “essay” portions of the SAT and the ACT is that they are the easiest parts of the test to coach and to beat. Today I’m not going to give away all of those secrets (though I might give away some in a future article), but I wanted to give you a teacher’s take on a typical ACT essay question. Here is an example:
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In some high schools, many teachers and parents have encouraged the school to require school uniforms that students must wear to school. Some teachers and parents support school uniforms because they think their use will improve the school’s learning environment. Other teachers and parents do not support requiring uniforms because they think it restricts individual freedom of expression. In your opinion, should high school students require uniforms for students?
In your essay, take a position on the question. You may write about either one of the two points of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this question. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.
Let’s step back from the uniform question and pull back to a school-level view. Isn’t it true that education is supposed to be holistic? We aren’t just looking to cultivate a mind – but a heart, a body, and a soul as well. How can we do that? It’s not enough to throw money at education and think that “the best” of everything will ensure the right forming of our future. We have to accept that everything a student sees, hears, and feels is part of his/her education.
So let’s start with the “uniform” of a school. Does it look like a place of higher learning? Or a DMV? Do students respect the property or is there litter and graffiti around? Are the facilities up-to-date, or if not, are they at least well kept? You can’t look to the uniform of the students without looking at the “uniform” of the school.
If you’re with me on the macro view, let’s drill down to look at uniforms specifically. Here are some facts about uniforms:
- They provide a cheaper option for all students. Without choice, students are confined in what they may wear. That means they can wear the same thing multiple days (or every day, for that matter) and no one will think them odd or strange.
- They hide economic differences. No students can be judged for their lack of designer outfits when those designer outfits are not allowed at school. Students will have many other things to deal with, but being teased for not being able to afford the best clothing will at least be mostly eliminated (free dress days always brings that ugly attitude back).
- They signal subconsciously to students that they are engaged in an endeavor that sets them apart from others. Many people wear uniforms in the working world – from a UPS driver to a Marine guarding the President. Are we to believe that all those people are simply surrendering their freedom of expression? Or is it simply an indication that sometimes when one is “on the job” it makes sense to look the part? Students do have a job. It’s called school.
- They give the school a chance to showcase its traditions. A school can, in its own way, express its individualism through its students. The colors, the school crest, the school motto – all of these things are sources of pride and sharing – and they remind students that they are part of a great story and that they should play their own part well.
All of those schools who guffaw at uniforms routinely have their own unspoken one: jeans and a t-shirt. This is what most students show up to school in every day. Children don’t dress themselves. Parents have to help them. But as you get older and start developing into the young person you want to be, you have to start making choices – little every day ones – that mark out the sort of person you are.
I was always told that character is what you do when nobody is looking. Character – and other lofty things that need molding – aren’t as mundane as clothing, but mundane things need attention too. So be intentional about your clothing choices, whether you have to wear a uniform or not. Then our schools would start looking a little less like rock concerts and more like institutions of higher learning. And when you look the part, it’s not that much farther until you start feeling…and acting…the part.
How does this relate to the ACT Essay question? Well, here are some ideas of the different directions you can go with the question! You can take this stance, the opposite one, or maybe even something else – just make sure you answer the question they ask!
Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.