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No, English Classes Shouldn’t Be Using ChatGPT

Updated: Jun 15

AI generated image about ChatGPT

I’ve noticed an alarming trend in society lately, and it’s to no one’s benefit. Flipping the knowledge of previous generations on its head, adults seem to defer to (or even be afraid of) children.

There are countless examples of this, and I myself have fallen prey to it with an entirely new collection of jeans and the middling of my hair’s part. But there are places where the adults need to remain the adults, and one of them is the classroom.

English teachers are currently facing an unprecedented dilemma with ChatGPT. An AI marvel, it can spit out a five-paragraph essay in seconds and its originality makes plagiarism checkers obsolete. Techno-geniuses are attempting to develop new academic honesty software, but the results are still far from perfect.

The New York Times and Politico: Embrace It

The New York Times published a piece earlier this year titled, “Don’t Ban ChatGPT in Schools. Teach With It.” Barely a week ago, Politico published something similar: “More Schools Want Your Kids to Use ChatGPT. Really.

While they don’t literally write “embrace it,” that’s the prevailing takeaway. The idea is that, like calculators, AI is here to stay. It’s better for students to learn how to use it than be “left behind” by technology.

From Politico, emphasis mine:

The reason for the dramatic shift: a realization that it’s better to harness the rapidly evolving technology than futilely attempt to insulate against it. “It’s like banning TikTok” on school internet, said Kip Glazer, principal of Mountain View High School in Silicon Valley, who holds a doctorate in learning technologies. “No, it’s not working. So silly. Come on, adults! You look foolish. […] Some high school educators have given students ChatGPT projects, such as requesting the bot write poetry in a particular style “and then analyzing the product that they’ve received,” said Janella T. Hinds, vice president for academic high schools at the United Federation of Teachers.

I can’t even tell you how many problems I have with both of these articles. Let’s start here:

ChatGPT is not the same as a calculator

Writing an essay requires a range of skills, including research, drafting (with its associated diction and grammar-related dilemmas), etc. ChatGPT takes away all of that.

Calculators are awesome, but they’re far more limited in their “replacement” value. I say this with confidence because I suck at math and actually tried to use a calculator a few times when I wasn’t supposed to. I still got the answers wrong.

You can’t type into a calculator, “If Jimmy has five apples and Sally has 2 and the car leaves every thirty minutes, how many apples do they need to feed the population of New York City?” or however those word problems go. You still have to convert the problem into an equation, and beyond that there are all sorts of opportunities to insert numbers into the wrong place, fail to follow the order of operations, forget what the hell all these Greek symbols mean unless you are trying to read Thucydides, in which case you might be inclined to pay attention, etc.

The Futile ‘Attempt to Insulate’

New flash: insulating children from things that aren’t good for them is basically “being a teacher and adult 101.”

That quote from Kip Glazier, who I’m sure is a lovely person and very intelligent in other ways, really rankled me. “It’s like banning TikTok…So Silly. Come on, adults! You look foolish.”

How you “look” in the eyes of a child should have zero impact on your academic decision-making process.

Analyzing ‘Bot’ Poetry

Seriously, why? If you’re going to analyze poetry, why not use—you know—an actual poem? Written by a human?

Earlier this year, I wrote about how there are Upper School students at elite private schools in my area who don’t know when the Holocaust was and think America was a British colony until the 1960s.

You’d think there was a deliberate attempt to erase history and authenticity from the curriculum.

We’re all so fad-based, so eager to jump onto any new trend, that we’re sorely neglecting the fundamentals.

If you don’t believe me, watch this:

Writing Matters

We don’t teach students how to write 5-paragraph essays for kicks. Writing teaches you how to collect and distill information, marshal your thoughts, and convince people of your opinion with words rather than violence. We aren’t doing students any favors by further lowering the standards and depriving them of this crucial form of self-expression.

AI Isn’t Intrinsically Bad!

After all this, you might think I’m anti-ChatGPT and/or all of the new AI resources. I’m not! I just think they should be taught as their own skills rather than as a replacement for what we once considered basic norms, like writing in English class.

As a small business owner, I can 100% see how these tools can be useful. I’ve been playing around with some of them, and have been pleasantly surprised with the quality of what they produce. I hate writing Amazon descriptions, for instance, so I can see how it would be nice to outsource some of these tasks.

Midjourney is a ton of fun, too, and a legitimate new avenue of self-expression. All of these tools can be used for good!

But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that, because AI can write now, we no longer need to be able to do it ourselves.

Its OWN Skill

I mean it when I say I’m not opposed to these tools. I don’t know what it will mean for artists, but lately I’ve been doing a deep dive into Midjourney and will probably start using it more regularly for graphics—maybe even book covers!

For the first time, I used Midjourney to create the art for the “featured image” in this post. And here are some images I’ve created for future covers of Vocabbett Classics:

Antigone by Sophocles

An AI-generated image of an art deco Greek woman.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

An AI-generated image in pinks, blues, and reds of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

An AI-generated book cover of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

The Odyssey by Homer

An AI-generated image of a handsome man in profile view, with a floral background

What are your thoughts on the coming revolution? Do you agree that AI and ChatGPT have a place, but they ought to be developed as their own skill rather than as a substitution for the basics?


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