Phi Beta Cons

Writing and Thinking

In the May 4 issue of the Chronicle, Rachel Toor, who teaches writing at Eastern Washington University, has a fine essay entitled “Why We Can’t Farm Out the Teaching of Writing.” Her key point is that many college professors these days dodge the work of evaluating student writing because they aren’t very good at writing themselves.

This is a problem that has been growing for decades. In his marvelous 1979 book Less than Words Can Say (re-released in 2004), Richard Mitchell, an English professor at Glassboro State College who was once known as “the underground grammarian,” argued that clear writing is evidence of clear thinking and that sloppy writing is evidence of sloppy thinking.

He wrote:

The logic of writing is simply logic; it is not some system of arbitrary conventions interesting only to those who write a lot. All logical thought goes on in the form of statements and statements about statements. We can make those statements only in language, even if that language be a different symbol system like mathematics. If we cannot make those statements and statements about statements logically, clearly, and coherently, then we cannot think and make knowledge. People who cannot put strings of sentences together in good order cannot think. An educational system that does not teach the technology of writing is preventing thought.

Although the U.S. spends more and more on “education,” great numbers of young (and now, middle-aged) citizens can’t do what used to be easy for most grade-schoolers — writing clear, well-thought-out sentences. They’ve never been taught to do that and with each passing year, there are fewer teachers who might teach them how.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Most Popular

White House

The Failure of the Deal

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (But especially Sammie), I had my say on the emergency declaration yesterday, and I’m sure I’ll have to say it all again not very far ... Read More
Politics & Policy

We’ll Regret This

Mitch McConnell says the president will sign the budget deal and he will also declare a national emergency to build the wall, as I expected. We’ll see the legal justifications he uses, but as a political and constitutional matter this is a long-term disaster. Oh, it might be good for Trump according to the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Let’s Chill about Hate Crimes

‘Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of the television show ‘Empire,’ was attacked in Chicago by 2 assailants who yelled racial and homophobic slurs,” tweeted the New York Times on January 29. Mark the tone of absolute certainty about an unconfirmed claim. Many other news outlets took the same tack. ... Read More