The Corner

Education

Why So Few College Students Can Write Well

One of the loudest complaints about college graduates once they enter the workforce is that they can’t write well. (I have even heard that from an old friend of mine who was for many years a partner in a big law firm. He attests that many law-school graduates are poor writers.) Almost every college has a writing course that students must take, but they don’t do much good.

In a recent book, one of those college-writing instructors endeavors to explain what’s wrong and how such courses ought to be revamped. But former English professor Nan Miller finds the book to be full of bad ideas and explains why in today’s Martin Center article.

For one thing, he is too worried about how hard assignments — specifically, research papers — will upset fragile college students. For another, he advocates that writing profs forget about grammar. Miller writes:

Another disservice done to students concerns Warner’s decision to drop grammar instruction from freshman comp because ‘Correctness is simply not a value any working writer would even recognize as important” and “clinging to folklore when it is proven to be wrong or misguided can be very damaging.’

The mania for avoiding hurt feelings is one of the reasons why college students think that using their own voice is what good writing entails.

Miller concludes:

In 2016, a panel established by the National Commission on Writing found that blue chip businesses now spend $3.1 billion a year on remedial writing training for employees. No doubt many of those employees had been taught by college instructors who had faded further and further into the background of the writing class, holding students hostage to a bad idea.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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