Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Writing Skills

FLG is horrified by the average level of writing skill on display in this country. He isn't perfect. He makes plenty of mistakes on this blog between/among your/you're, they're/there/their, it's/its, and other homophones. Oftentimes, he cringes when he reads a hastily published post. Nevertheless, he knows how to craft a grammatically correct sentence.

The same cannot be said for countless millions of people in this country. Don't even get FLG started on his coworkers or, heaven forbid, people who write federal documents.* Those pale in comparison to the Superintendent of Detroit Schools who recently wrote:
If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats.

Unfortunately, this lack of facility with the English language is too common among school administrators, as this recent article by a high school teacher makes clear:
Nothing shows how downright phony the game is than the Ed.D.s — the Doctors of Education. I have seen administrators who have had trouble writing clear letters home to parents and who murdered the English language in public go about brandishing their degrees and insisting on being called “Doctor.”

FLG's question is this:
How do people graduate from college without the ability to write a clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentence? Doesn't anybody fail them for turning in an indecipherable mess of a paper? Perhaps an even better question is how do people get accepted into a college without the ability to write a clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentence?

As has been said before on this blog, GEC returned a paper to FLG on which he pointed out every use of passive voice in red, along with half a page of comments describing all of the problems with using passive voice itself written entirely in passive voice. Yet, college graduates can't correctly place the commas around a parenthetical clause or use a semicolon? I call shenanigans!


* It's more a style thing, but their writing still sucks.


Anonymous said...



And if you criticize it you are a racist.

Mrs. P

arethusa said...

It's because they don't care. Seriously. There no longer seems to be an interest in writing as communication, as a way to make other people understand what you're saying.

Re: the passive voice. I once got docked a grade from an A to an A- in college for using the passive voice once in a paper and have done my damnedest not to do so in formal writing since. Only to find that many of my colleagues use it all the freaking time.

Withywindle said...

If you don't know how to write at the end of high school, most likely you never will. As I think I've said before: any sort of stringent standards would result in failing a large majority of my students. I'm not allowed.

And note also that the rot is all the way through to the top of the intellectual pyramid, where, if basic literacy has survived (one hopes), the ability to write and think clearly is scarce.

FLG said...

Mrs. P:

It's not just Ebonics.

Anonymous said...

Did Laura Berman's article on the guy in Detroit mention the guy was originally hired on as a teacher in the Detroit Public School system? Laura Berman is known to miss some of the most important facts...

Did she also mention that his college degree from Wayne State was held up for 10 years? It was. Over English proficiency. And the DPS hired him. And no, not because white people were unwilling to teach in Detroit. That's bunk. But it is true that 70% of the college graduates have been leaving Michigan for 20+ years so Michigan is left with either the dumb ones or the rich ones.

Mrs. P

dance said...

I don't understand Mrs P's first comment? Or your response?

I will say that as a history professor, I don't strongly enforce things at the sentence level. Similarly, I've heard composition profs say that their job is not defined as teaching grammar.

I dedicate much more attention to the organization and treatment of ideas at the paragraph level, which I think is more important. When I do focus on grammar, it's in the direction of ensuring that grammar supports the rhetoric (eg, don't bury your main idea in a subordinate clause). Line-editing is FAR too time-consuming to do on every paper, although when I get a good example that I can rewrite, I share it with the entire class.

That said, most of my students can put together fairly comprehensible, roughly grammatical, sentences before I get them. Except for consistently using the wrong preposition, which they have managed to infect me with. However, passive voice is not ungrammatical (and I flag pedantry on student papers like mad, with a special shorthand for "not wrong but not helping").

In part of my admin transition, I did notice that some people are scared to write. Then I got a paragraph from them and understood why. It was terrible--but, I believe, quite grammatical.

dance said...

Skip the part re not understanding Mrs P. I got it, meant to delete that.

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