David Herman is a high school teacher. He wrote an essay in The Atlantic that asks whether the English essay is obsolete, replaced by a computer that does it better. The machine may write a well-worded essay, but we should not forget the warning from MIT Professor Les Perelman, who has studied writing machines extensively. The computers don’t have any knowledge. They don’t know any history. They ignore factual errors. Here is one of his critiques of the SAT essay, titled “Mass-Market Writing Assessments as Bullshit.” Or there is this nonsensical essay that he wrote for a machine. Is ChatGPT superior to the SAT machine reader? I will ask Dr. Perelman.

Teenagers have always found ways around doing the hard work of actual learning. CliffsNotes date back to the 1950s, “No Fear Shakespeare” puts the playwright into modern English, YouTube offers literary analysis and historical explication from numerous amateurs and professionals, and so on. For as long as those shortcuts have existed, however, one big part of education has remained inescapable: writing. Barring outright plagiarism, students have always arrived at that moment when they’re on their own with a blank page, staring down a blinking cursor, the essay waiting to be written.

Now that might be about to change. The arrival of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a program that generates sophisticated text in response to any prompt you can imagine, may signal the end of writing assignments altogether—and maybe even the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill.

If you’re looking for historical analogues, this would be like the printing press, the steam drill, and the light bulb having a baby, and that baby having access to the entire corpus of human knowledge and understanding. My life—and the lives of thousands of other teachers and professors, tutors and administrators—is about to drastically change.

I teach a variety of humanities classes (literature, philosophy, religion, history) at a small independent high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. My classes tend to have about 15 students, their ages ranging from 16 to 18. This semester I am lucky enough to be teaching writers like James Baldwin, Gloria Anzaldúa, Herman Melville, Mohsin Hamid, Virginia Held. I recognize that it’s a privilege to have relatively small classes that can explore material like this at all. But at the end of the day, kids are always kids. I’m sure you will be absolutely shocked to hear that not all teenagers are, in fact, so interested in having their mind lit on fire by Anzaldúa’s radical ideas about transcending binaries, or Ishmael’s metaphysics in Moby-Dick.

To those students, I have always said: You may not be interested in poetry or civics, but no matter what you end up doing with your life, a basic competence in writing is an absolutely essential skill—whether it’s for college admissions, writing a cover letter when applying for a job, or just writing an email to your boss.

I’ve also long held, for those who are interested in writing, that you need to learn the basic rules of good writing before you can start breaking them—that, like Picasso, you have to learn how to reliably fulfill an audience’s expectations before you get to start putting eyeballs in people’s ears and things.I don’t know if either of those things is true anymore. It’s no longer obvious to me that my teenagers actually will need to develop this basic skill, or if the logic still holds that the fundamentals are necessary for experimentation.

Let me be candid (with apologies to all of my current and former students): What GPT can produce right now is better than the large majority of writing seen by your average teacher or professor. Over the past few days, I’ve given it a number of different prompts. And even if the bot’s results don’t exactly give you goosebumps, they do a more-than-adequate job of fulfilling a task.

Herman goes on, adding examples of essays that the writing machine produced.

What do you think?