Writing Competency is not just for English Class [Teachers Who Don’t]

A recent article on Salon discussed at length the growing problem of American teenagers getting to college without basic writing skills. The article focuses on English classes, and how they are moving away from more traditional writing focus to more presentations, discussions, and other more “soft” teaching methods. The author, Kim Brooks, considers the possibility that “‘this typical high school English class, dividing its curriculum between standardized test preparation and the reading of canonical texts, might occupy a central place in the creation of a generation of college students who, simply put, cannot write.”  Why the avoidance of more strict writing education? It’s too hard.

I do not disagree that teaching writing is hard. But why is it so hard? Teaching reading is difficult as well, and most college students enter as freshman with the ability to read their required reading. Similarly, basic math skills are rarely a deficiency with your average college student.  What makes writing different?

In American schools, writing is a silo subject, while reading and math are not. In your history class, you are required to be able to read the text book. In your physics class, you are required to solve math equations. If you are required to write a paper in either, you will not be graded on spelling, grammar, formatting, or source citations.

We are taught, from a young age, that writing skills only matter in English class. Very quickly, this translates into a mentality that these skills also don’t matter in the “real world.” Any effort to build a proper piece of writing is only expended when absolutely required. Similarly, any chance to avoid evaluating and grading a proper piece of writing is also avoided by teachers, with the rational that “those skills will be covered by the English teacher.”

This lackadaisical approach has far reaching effects outside of just writing. If a student is taught that citing sources is unimportant, why would they ever fact check their own thoughts and views? Teaching students to do research, to form coherent arguments based on facts, these skills are vital to being informed, productive adults. Too many people believe in things that have zero basis in reality. Theses are not “unknowables” like god, but basic physics or medical knowledge. The evidence is available; people simply do not have the mental framework to seek evidence and support for their views.

As a society, we must hold our students (and ourselves) to a higher standard. We have to teach writing as a core skill required of all students, all adults, all citizens of this country. Writing is not just for English class, but for all classes. Writing competency is for life.

-That is all.

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