High School English teachers interested in writing talk a lot about coherence. A quick search of coherence in the visual thesaurus visuwords reveals synonyms like “logical, fluid, understandable”. While, adherence brings up words like “stick, bond, bind”. I find this funny, sort of, but not really, because on the one hand we ask students to ensure their writing has flow while on the other demanding prescribed form. I guess that’s why I enjoyed John Warner’s book, Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.
I’ve been trying to kill it for several years now, but realized that you can’t kill a behemoth alone. I need colleagues to help me slay this lifeless beast. Students often learn early to fear the dreaded essay and allow their thoughts on literature to be ruled by tyrants of form while not really understanding the liberation of function. They write with fill-in-the-blank formulas and check box thinking. So, when I ask them to let the ideas guide their structure, it’s understandable that they stare blankly at me. Coherence?
These contrasting ideas of coherence and adherence floated into me today during a brief conversation with my principal about an article on equity. She was sharing her thoughts about Gorski’s conclusion that students of colour are often found in “lower track” courses where they have less access to engaging content and more exposure to “control-oriented practices”. (Gorski, Paul. “Avoiding Racial Detours”, Educational Leadership, Apr. 2019, pp. 56-61) We stared at one another in a moment of shared despair and drive. Adherence?
And of course, adherence to models can produce measureable results, while coherence allows for flexibililty in the name of understanding and comprehension. I realize that I might be stretching the meaning of these words or excessively extending the metaphorical application to matters as complex as racial inequities in education.
But, then again, maybe not. Maybe, like writing, life is the place where we wrestle with ourselves to figure out the fluidity and coherence to come to a new understanding. Maybe, like writing, we need to focus on the ideas of equity to allow for coherence because adherence to one way means we forget the function of education.