Thursday, January 20, 2011

Writing: a lost art?

I read recently that a study has been published that claims that, after four years of college, students are graduating without learning "the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education."

Okay, I know that high school students can't write, as in picking up a pen or pencil and connecting it to a piece of paper. Educators claim they don't need to learn to write in cursive because they all use a keyboard. Nowadays, a little, bitty one on their cell phones. And what they write is in code as far as I'm concerned. It took me months to figure out LOL means "laughing out loud." I thought it meant "lots of luck."

But not being able to write, as in "written communication skills?"

There have been many changes since I attended good old Alfred University including coed dorms and tuition hikes that today could pay for a small home. Whatever happened to essays, term papers, reports and all the other assignments? Looking back, it seems I spent my four years researching topics in the campus library, followed by typing reports on what I had read. On a manual typewriter. Without Wite-Out. You had to be pretty sure what you were going to write made sense before you hit the keys because you couldn't correct it by backspacing. You had to start all over.

I get Internet vs. library. Why get dressed and trudge across the quad when you can do research on your laptop? Unfortunately, it is too easy to copy/paste information found there and present it as your own. Some students have never heard of plagarism. Hey, it's on the Internet, it's free for all, right? Right, but it's not writing. It's copying someone else's ideas and not using your own critical thinking. skills.

When did I learn to write? I think my first assignment was, "You can't play with your new toy until you write and thank your grandmother for it." In elementary school, we started class every fall with "What I Did on My Summer Vacation." Then there were the Regents exams in high school: two facts and an illustration for every essay question.

I know some students are writing. Every year our writers club holds a contest for students from third grade to seniors. I've judged essay contests. And I try to withhold judgment on grammar, punctuation and spelling because I realize it isn't the student's fault he never learned it.

But college? That scares me. Writing is an essential, reasoned and thoughtful form of communication. If our emerging leaders don't learn this skill during their four years on campus, I really fear for the future.


  1. Wonderful post, Sandy. I completely agree. But this scares me.

  2. I agree, Sandy. While I think there are so many benefits to the internet, there is also a lot that is lost.

  3. I askeerd= I'm scared. When I was in school, 3rd grade to be exact, my teacher said I had the prettiest handwriting, My fellow students gathered around my desk when she said it to 'see' what she was talking about. Today? I struggle to read what my own kids write. I remember (in 1st gr) my dad making me sit for long minutes drawing a connected 'o' repeatedly across the paper until each 'o' was symmetrical and round as it overlapped the other before it. I won class spelling bees. I wrote summer vacation stories that glowed and got 'A' grades. In 8th gr I began writing short stories and poems. Because I loved to write. I credit that to my dad's tough teaching growing up. Now I'm a writer and I still love it. I've always encouraged my dds who at one time or another have 'tried their hand' at writing. I'm proud to say my kids missed the 'college students can't write' stigma, because I was the same kind of parent I was raised by.

    Thanks Sandy.