Why Americans Cannot Write

Yesterday, I reconnected with a high school English teacher who revolutionized the way I think about writing and the English language. In an era of standardized testing, this teacher managed to juggle the demands of the state learning requirements with his own passion for grammatical mastery. This included reading and grammatical analysis. Yes – I am a firm believer that the first way to improve your writing skills is to READ, and not just passive reading. We need to pay attention to how writers phrase and organize their work. There is a reason they are published. They should be taken as a model – for better or worse. This teacher also expected us to be able to break down a sentence word by word – inspecting each element and identifying its role within the sentence. Most of my writing ability today I attribute to this teacher’s dedication to English fundamentals.

Today, the Salon featured a story about why college undergraduates struggle with basic writing. Kim Owens, a composition professor writes of her students:

“They don’t know how to outline or how to organize a paper before they begin. They don’t know how to edit or proofread it once they’ve finished. They plagiarize, often inadvertently, and I find myself, at least for a moment, relieved by these sentence- or paragraph-long reprieves from their migraine-inducing, quasi-incomprehensible prose.”

I have seen the very same problems among my peers at the graduate level. We need to fix how we teach English from high school onward. Otherwise, the upcoming generation of Americans will lack the writing skills necessary to survive in the professional world.

For the full Salon article: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/05/10/death_to_high_school_english

H/T Renee Scherlen

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