You Are What You Write

100_0263I read this post in the Huffington Post today and it imparts many truisms about why our language is deteriorating into a cacophony of abbreviations, misspellings and complete ignorance of all things that show care for being precise and correct in written communication.  After all, we are in an age when “You are what you write” since face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication are relegated to the annals of history and it’s all about email, blogging, texting, Tweeting and more.

In her article, “10 Things I Learned as an Adjunct Teacher,”   Pauline Hawkins talks about 10 writing issues she found in her first year  teaching college comp classes. I have been teaching upper level college writing courses for 20 years and I find the same issues and they make me want to cry because of the evident and growing disregard for the language.

Here is what Pauline found in her first year:

  1. She knows she is a teacher because she cares that students get it right.
  2. Grammar has to make its way back into the high school curriculum.
  3. Writing teachers need to be writers.
  4. Standardized testing has ruined education.
  5. Some students need to take a year (at least) off before going to college.
  6. Vocational school needs to be a bigger and more respectable option for graduating high school students.
  7. Parents should encourage their kids who are not ready for a 4-year school to go to a community college for at least 1 year.
  8. Parents need to know when to help and when to let their kids learn it ‘the hard way.’
  9. People are dealing with a lot of crap in their lives.
  10. Learning to write well is one of the most rewarding skills we can acquire!

As I ponder my past and present experiences with students, and although I wholeheartedly agree with everything Pauline has said here, I particularly carry the flag for numbers 2 and 10. Students come to college without grammar skills. It starts with punctuation, or rather, lack-there-of. Comma usage causes immediate panic and either students place them all over the page—and I mean ALL over,  or they are nowhere to be found.  Forget colons and semicolons – students have not a clue what these are let alone how they should be used.  Sentence structure is also a major issue: fragments, run-ons and comma splices abound. I dare not use the technical terminology for fear of watching eyes glaze, so I constantly seek clever and simple ways to teach the concepts without the scary labels.

Second for me is the thrill of learning to write well. I was an English nerd dating back to elementary school. I loved diagramming sentences (my students today don’t even know what this is), writing essays and poems, and taking those grammar tests that my friends detested. As the nerd, I always got the A while many of my friends struggled  for a C. A or C, the thing about it back then was we cared about whether we could write. English as a subject was a big deal and perfection was realistically sought after – the nuns made sure of it.

All of what Pauline says is true. Not only do students come to college never having diagrammed a sentence, they know none of the terms that were drilled into us back when: participle, present perfect, compound complex sentence or even past, present and future verb tenses. Admittedly, I don’t think the terms are important, but what I do think is imperative is that students know how to place a comma, write a correct sentence and construct a decently written message.

After all, this is the age when it’s not who you see or speak with that counts (though I fully believe these should also count), it’s how you write that determines your image – good or bad. Imagine: if writing skills continue to deteriorate, then no one will be able to recognize or care about quality in the written word. Where will that then leave us as a civilization?

About

An author, a teacher, a candlestick maker? I am lucky enough to have followed my muse through a most eclectic life of many careers, many interests, and many friends and liasions. Two beautiful children, now grown and one their own, several books -- the penultimate accomplishment dream come true, a hores trainer, a college professor, and a stint in corporate America to validate my feelings that I never, ever want to go there again. So I donned my ruby slippers and dared to take those different paths, those diverging paths, and that has made all the difference! (Thank you, Robert!)

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