Why Can't College Grads Write?

I had though to link to this in tomorrow's Thoughts On A Sunday post, but the more I thought about it I came to realize it deserved a post of its own.

The Barrister links to and comments upon an article in Forbes that wonders why so many college graduates are incapable of speaking or writing clearly.

Writes the Barrister:

Is it a college's job to teach people to write a coherent, legible, well-structured adult essay? It's not rocket science. In my job, I have to do two or three daily.

Colleges are admitting unprepared students. It's about the money. Follow the money.

In my comment to this I wrote:

I deal with people all over the globe in the course of business (I'm an engineer). You know it's getting bad when people who speak, read, and write English as a second language write much better than their American counterparts.

On more than one occasion I have received e-mails from 'colleagues' here in the States that included so many spelling and grammar errors as to make their e-mails almost incomprehensible. I have also received e-mails that include more than a few "text-speak" abbreviations that I find to be quite annoying. From what I understand this phenomenon exists in our schools where students turn in homework or essays loaded with "text speak". The better schools reject this out of hand, but too many are willing to let students get away with it, not understanding or caring that they are crippling the students' abilities to communicate clearly.

Even when I text I will rarely use “text speak”. I write in plain English even if it means I have to send two text messages to get the message across. I will use abbreviations when I am communication with fellow amateur radio operators using Morse Code, but those abbreviations are universal and are understood by everyone and greatly shortens the time needed to communicate. (A side note: many of the “text speak” abbreviations have their origins in telegraphy going back to the mid 1800's. Telegraphers used abbreviations to speed communications because Morse Code is a relatively slow medium. Ham radio operators have used them since radio came into being.)

Back to the subject at hand.

From George Leef's article in Forbes:

Many students enter college with amazingly poor writing ability, owing to the fact that no one paid much attention to their writing while they were in their K-12 years. Once I had a student come to my office with her test in hand, a test on which she had scored very poorly on all three of the essay questions. “But I never had to write essay answers before,” she complained. Throughout her previous years of schooling, she had taken almost nothing but true-false and multiple-choice tests.

...[Professor “X”] observes that good writers have read a lot of quality writing over many years, but unfortunately, few high school graduates have to read much of substance. Thus, they enter college with very poorly developed writing skills. That creates jobs for adjunct writing instructors like Professor X, but it is extremely difficult to make much progress in a short time with students who have suffered from years of educational neglect and malpractice.

That neglect and malpractice goes back to what I wrote above, with teachers letting students get away with using incorrect or incomplete English. Once they get into college, a professor's “diligence in evaluating student papers can lead to unpleasant conflicts with students who take umbrage at having their work corrected. Most of them have been told by previous teachers that they’re good writers (often by teachers who themselves can’t write well) and they take offense at any opinion to the contrary.”

I have to wonder whether the “self-esteem” track implemented by so many public schools has something to with this. If kids never fail they never feel the need to improve. If teachers never say “This is wrong, try again,” the kids never really learn how to do it correctly, whatever “it” is. Then it follows that when they reach college age they haven't a clue about how to put together a cogent thought on paper. Assuming they graduate their poor skills will work against them when they're out looking for work.