Friday, December 20, 2013

Decline of writing?

At Forbes Leef complains the K-12 fails to teach reading/writing very well, and universities don't do it at all. I have no reason to believe he is wrong, but several things complicate my view.
  • It is no secret that lots of people graduate from college who wouldn't have been admitted had they been born 60 years ago. And plenty of people graduate from high school who'd have dropped out in years past. So making sure you are comparing apples to apples is tougher than it seems.
  • I'm not a teacher. If something is badly written, I generally don't have to read it. I can simply marvel at the editor's incompetence and move on to the next story. I generally only get mad when the school principal's letter to the parents is ungrammatical. Government forms are a different kind of nightmare--idiosyncratic jargon trips me up.
  • I'm a forgiving sort. If I can understand what you're trying to say, I'll try to concentrate on that. I work with quite a few people for whom English is not the first language. I've helped my Better Half raise several kids. Being the grammar policeman squelches otherwise good conversations.
  • Most of the people I work with have excellent math and very good verbal skills. I don't run into much bad grammar or spelling at work, except from people whose English is far better than my German or (non-existent) Swedish.
  • I sometimes write sloppily myself, as a careful inspection of this blog will show.

On the other hand, social interactions with college kids and recent graduates (excluding the physics students) often leave me wondering what other gaps in their education one might find.

And whatever benefits there may be to electronic entertainment, sharpening writing skills cannot be one of them. I offer Facebook in evidence. Twitter may be good at training headline writers, but I don't use it and can't say for sure.

On the third hand, I find unexpected gaps in my own knowledge. Yet aside from verb disagreements (usually from incomplete sentence revisions), overuse of parenthesis, and innovative use of semicolons I generally write competently. So my observations of conversations may not be relevant to whether the youngsters can write.

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