In all of the short fiction and creative writing classes I've taken, the instructors have given us short stories to read and learn from. These most frequently consist of classics and timeless stories that are widely regarded as "literature." We are meant to read them, to study them, and to glean from them a better understanding of the nature of a story. They are in the form of printouts (possibly violating copyright policy) and anthologies, such as Fiction 100, or Crafting the Very Short Story. Some stories are ubiquitous in all beginning and college writing classes: Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, to name a few.
The thing about these stories that we are supposed to learn from is that they stand apart from the stories that we will be writing. A great many of them don't follow a "recipe" or "guidelines" of plot or structure, as beginning writers are expected to do (i.e. beginning, crisis, climax, resolution). Many instructors and bloggers say this is the way it has to go. I don't think they serve well as a model for novice writing students. The stories explore themes and ideas that involve plots and characterizations that exceed the standards; they have more than one main character, or don't follow a standard plot arc, or do unconventional things with their prose.
Two remedies are apparent to me: Either the material we give to beginning writers needs to be more conventional and contemporary, or we should tone down the weight that is placed on the standard forms. Yes, you do need an understanding of the basics before you can experiment, but should you be punished for doing so just because you are not yet published or accepted? In both the literature and the art worlds, there seems to be a harsh truth that even if your work is brilliant, unless you are already established and accepted in the writing or art community (and in many cases dead), it won't be taken seriously. I think that, in an educational setting, it is more important that we give learning writers the freedom to write how they see fit, and then let them know what works.
The best fiction class I've taken (taught by Michael Guerra) was presented more in the form of a structured writer's workshop than a class, and I think all of us students benefited from it. We were told to write our first story without any instruction regarding howto write a story, which left many of us feeling miffed at first. Then, as a class, we discussed the content and organization of the stories and what we got out of it, leaving aside nitpicky things like grammar and conventions (plenty of editorial corrections were made on the 25 copies we shared and got back from the class). We gave the same treatment to the "professional" stories we read from the anthologies, illuminating what worked and why, while illustrating other methods of executing what didn't. In this way we were free to work with and develop our own style, unadulterated by the pretention of the literature elite. A handful of the writers in the class produced work that was absolutely exemplary and could readily be published. It is these writers that we should be encouraging to push their limits rather than discouraging and forcing to fit their material in a set structure.
I don't mean to say by any means that following the basic "rules" is a bad thing. The "rules" are a great place to start from, to reference, and to fall back on, but they should not be preached as writing law. An environment has been created by writers, editors, and teachers who give advice on writing in which it is scary for a beginning writer to push their imagination and skills to try something new. Stephen King says it very well in his book, On Writing: "...Most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do -- not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad."
I think we can reduce this bullshit. Writing is scary enough as it is, and only gets more frightening as you graduate to new levels. We should be teaching writers to respectfully embrace the risk inherent in originality, not to back away from it.