A while back, I talked about the importance of strong writing skills in the workplace. Today I want to take a look at the grim statistics regarding poor writing skills on college campuses and help you explore things you can do now to ensure that your children do not join those ranks.
The Problem on College Campuses
First-time college students face their new post-high school careers with excitement, fear, and any number of challenges. But good writing, for many freshmen, may pose the biggest challenge of all.
Professors want to see concise, coherent and well-reasoned writing assignments. And regardless of the discipline—whether English, history, biology, or art—they expect students to write at a higher level than they did in high school.
We hear again and again that many freshmen lack the most basic skills to write clearly, effectively, and coherently because their working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and paragraph structure is so poor. According to a recent article by the California State University:
About 60 percent of first-time freshmen enrolling at the CSU each year do not show entry-level proficiency in [college-level English] assessments, even though they have earned at least a B average in the required college preparatory curriculum. As a result, many students must attend remedial classes, which do not count for college credit and add cost and time to earning a degree.
When High Schools Fail to Prepare Their Graduates
Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper of Tufts University, reports that it’s becoming more and more apparent that the nation’s high schools are not devoting enough time to writing skills and may not be providing students with a strong enough writing-based curriculum.
The Tufts article notes that according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 44 percent of university faculty members say their students are simply not ready for the rigors of college-level writing.
When College Writing Courses Don’t Teach Writing
Arriving on campus is no assurance of success for incoming freshmen who need basic writing courses but aren’t necessarily getting them.
Professor Stanley Fish says universities should rethink the political and ideological emphasis of most composition classes. He rightly suggests that “unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham.”
Fish relates that a few years ago, he became alarmed and curious about the poor writing skills his English graduate students demonstrated in their research papers. Graduate students should write well, Fish believed; especially since they were responsible for teaching undergraduate students how to write in introductory composition classes. Fish asked to see lesson plans for the 104 sections in which English graduate students taught composition to undergrads. He found that in 100 of the sections, “students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.” Only four sections emphasized grammar, rhetoric, and the craft of writing well. (Eagle Forum Education Reporter)
A Sad but True Example
Several months ago, a friend came into possession of a freshman English paper and shared it with me. Sadly, it serves to reinforce the statistics and testimonials that only too frequently cross my desk. From start to finish, this student’s essay on William Blake’s “The Tyger” is riddled with errors:
- Uncapitalized proper nouns such as jesus and greek
- Missing punctuation, including periods
- Casual language (“…it is actually about more than just a tiger and stuff.”)
- Slang (“Allusion is all over the freekin place.”)
- Misplaced apostrophes and more slang (“Tyger’s have four feet. Cool, huh?“)
- Use of second person (“If you look at Blake’s history…”)
- Run-on sentences and sentence fragments
- Absence of transitions
- Lack of organization
- Use of numerals instead of words (“…5 years ago…”)
- Use of Wikipedia as a “credible” source
This student represents a mere drop in a very full bucket. Thousands of similarly skilled young men and women are accepted into major universities every year—high school graduates whose writing abilities just aren’t up to par.
You Can Make a Difference!
I could continue filling your brain with testimonials and data and examples. But why rehash when the bottom line remains the same? Students are emerging from their high-school cocoons as undernourished butterflies whose wings are inadequately developed for flying through college writing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re in a privileged position to help your homeschooled students. In future articles, I’ll get into more detail, but for now, rest assured that you can:
- Learn to identify your child’s unique grammar, spelling, and writing issues.
- Tailor curricula and writing lessons to address those needs.
- Make sure you’re covering the basics.
- Expand instruction to include more college prep work.
- Offer your child what a classroom teacher of 150 cannot: one-on-one instruction, frequent writing assignments, and detailed, consistent feedback.
Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.