Saturday, June 29, 2013

Do the write thing

After posting my blog last week hailing the "news" that studying humanities is important to individual development and national well-being, I read this article on a friend's Facebook page. In "Why MBA-bound Johnny Can't Write," columnist and Financial Times editor Michael Skapinker takes on the seeming epidemic of bad writing in classrooms and on campus. He questions whether deterioration of writing skills is, as many assert, a new phenomenon -- one led by reliance on the shorthand of Twitter and texting. He says the origins of this diminution in skill is beside the point: "Whether poor writing is new or old, it is odd that it persists at a time when parents are vying to provide their children with any possible advantage, exposing them to the paintings of Paul Klee at the age of four, as the New York Times recently reported, and teaching them to sing 'Heads, shoulders, knees and toes' in Mandarin."

I agree. In a highly competitive world, I find it amazing that ambitious and gifted young people do not take their use of language--spoken or written--seriously. I have been teaching gifted students this summer. Many of them have taken Honors or AP English. After a while I stopped pointing out noun-verb agreement mistakes, tense shifts, the awful substitution of "less" for "fewer." They did not ask, as student have before, "what does grammar have to do with public speaking?" So I give them credit for perhaps knowing that they should know this stuff. And maybe I should cut them some slack because, well, it is summer! I do wonder, though, if parents who are so eager to provide the enrichment of a great summer program in communications have also invested in the basics of good grammar.

Clear thinking and good writing are essential to living a fully-realized life. I truly believe that, but  may not be able to convince everyone. So let's shift our focus and look at the matter more "practically." Good writing and speaking --"excellent written and verbal communications"-- will continue to be a requirement for most jobs sought by college graduates. Why not give students that training when they are younger? Then they will have a lifetime to develop these skills, and will be that much more attractive to employers.  As Skapinker says,"There’s a gap in the market and the smarter parents and students should get on to it. Good writing is far easier to master than Mandarin."

Xie xie.

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