Phi Beta Cons

Colleges Ignore the Most Basic of Skills

In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor Murray Sperber points out that most college courses do little or nothing to help students become good (or even moderately competent) at that most basic of skills — writing. Even though few students have been taught good writing skills in their K–12 years and badly need careful, line-by-line editing by their professors, they rarely get it. Such editing is too much thankless work for more faculty members, and no one compels them to do it.

Ideally, we would go back to seriously teaching children how to write in grade school and continuously polishing their ability through high school. It’s absurd that college professors should need to teach students the elements of grammar, punctuation, and so on. But since K–12 can’t be magically transformed, colleges need to do as much as they can to ensure that their graduates don’t go out into the labor force with writing skills that are weaker than a well-schooled sixth grader’s. Simply putting students through a single freshman composition course isn’t nearly enough.

This is an opportunity for some colleges to separate themselves from the pack. Those that make solid writing instruction part of the curriculum will get a comparative advantage.

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

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