In 1992, Chief Justice Rehnquist asked Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to write the majority opinion for Lee v. Weisman, a decision that would have rolled back restrictions on school prayer. However, Justice Kennedy found that his draft opinion defending the clergy-led prayer exercise at a public school graduation just “would not write.” As a result, he switched his vote during deliberations and ultimately composed the majority opinion, preserving the precedent of limiting the role of religion in public schools.
Today, a student asked the class and me to critique a particular paragraph with which she was struggling in her Romeo and Juliet essay. I read the paragraph aloud and then shared the above anecdote with the students, asking them what Kennedy meant when he said that his draft “would not write.” The students responded, “He never had a clear understanding of his thesis statement.” A few turned to the young woman and shared, “That’s the problem in your paragraph; you’re not really confident about your topic sentence, so you’re struggling with your defense.” Exactly – she just needed to change her argument.
This kind of budding understanding is like cherry blossoms for me. It signals spring and the approaching close of the year. My students are beginning to understand.