"Can We Use 'I'?"

In an article, "The Soul-Crushing Student Essay," a writing instructor at The New School in New York City laments first-year students' writing. Every semester, he says, students ask, “Do you mean we can write with the word ‘I’?” He says, "Somewhere along the way, these young people were told by teachers that who they are in their writing ought to be divorced from who they are on their phones, or as the writer Grace Paley may have said, with their families and on their streets."

He encourages students to write about their own experience:

First, we need to value more the complete and complex lives of young people: where they come from, how they express themselves. They have already lived lives worthy of our attention and appreciation.

Second, we need to encourage young people to take seriously those lives they’ve lived, even as they come to understand—often through schooling and just as often not—that there’s a whole lot more we’ll expect of them. Through this, we can help them learn to expect more of themselves, too.

I'm sensitive to the topic because several students recently asked me this question about their final assignment—a self-reflection paper.

Image source.


  • Were you taught to avoid "I" in writing? What was the reason?
  • What is the value of writing from your own experience?
  • How does using "I" make your writing clearer and more concise?