Lamenting the decline in student writing


NOTE:  It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted to this blog, and with good reason.  I am in the process of finishing my education at Georgia Southwestern State University, a degree long overdue for completion.  What does this have to do with writing, emerging authors and publishing business?  Quite bit, actually.  For a sense of perspective, I wish to post this essay written for my English class, which I retook to raise my grade-point average.

The world of collegiate writing is facing a crisis. As recent scandals involving standardized testing have proven, the current crop of incoming freshmen have proven, on many occasions, ill-equipped to handle the demands of college-level English classes. Yes, reading levels have seen a marked improvement over the past decade, but the ability to writing coherent, concise, and intelligent sentences continues to lag.

Think, for a moment, about your collegiate English classes. Were they boring? Were they engaging? Did the professor have a particular bias towards a demographic subset? Or were you fortunate enough to have the diehard entertaining academic, your own inspiring John Keating? Today, it is difficult to tell what really engages college students, and even more difficult to read some of their work. Text speak, misspellings, run-on sentences and the like are the stuff of literary nightmares, and what professors and graduate assistants must face on a daily basis.

One of the single greatest misconceptions of college students is the notion of the “all nighter” for compositions. This time-honored tradition of gathering books, taking notes, and building the all-important rough and final drafts has, in most cases, gone the way of the dinosaur. Though the internet and myriad electronic resources have created a cornucopia of knowledge bases, the skill required to separate fact from fiction has never been greater. Being able to use multiple search engines on a topic is useless if the majority of the sites contain quasi-information based on junk science, wild speculation, or conspiracy theories based in little more than superstitions, personal bias and urban legends. Today’s students are facing the greatest collection of resources ever assembled at one’s fingertips; they also must wade through the greatest ocean of misinformation ever created by the human mind.

For any literary education to be useful, the ability to not only write, but to discern sources, must be taught in an integrated fashion. For this reason, courses such as Literature, Social Sciences, History, Economics, Philosophy, and other Liberal Arts subjects are more vital than ever because they do more than just teach basics and absolutes. They teach the ability of one to thinking critically, discern fact from fiction, and build a cohesive argument using sound research skills. For those with a more creative bent, the study of such courses provides the sort of knowledge needed to learn how to write believable, yet entertaining stories and poetry which do not just uplift, but entertain, education, scare and humor readers.

Thanks to the demands of politicians and parents who are focused more on numbers than knowledge, our students are missing many of these important elements from their education. Thankfully, recent decisions to end the near obsessive level of testing in many states offers a ray of hope that sanity and common sense can once again prevail. Students deserve the opportunity to learn not just the lauded “Three Rs,” but the equally important liberal arts and sciences as a means to flex their thinking muscles, and not just their computational minds.

It’s one thing to be able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in two days; it is quite another to be able to write a 5,000 world essay, in proper MLA or APA format, on the general literary themes addressed by J.K. Rowling in said work. This is a situation which college educators tend to concern themselves with, and which students must address with all deliberate force if they are to have a prayer of managing their collegiate careers effectively.

3 thoughts on “Lamenting the decline in student writing

  1. The other day, I was having a conversation with a student about how to go about writing the final paper for the class. During my explanation (where I’m talking about arguments, evidence, and other basic aspects of social science writing), the student stopped me and admitted that he’d never written essay of this kind before. This is a senior in anthropology at a well-regarded university who’d never before been asked to think critically and write analytically.

    While I’d say that the majority of my students have gotten the training that they need, a worrying number of my students (including this senior, who is a very bright student) have slipped through the cracks.


    • My question would be what sort of social sciences did he study in high school? Was there a writing requirement? Too many schools were obsessed with “teaching to the test” that they ignored the ability to communicate coherently.


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