Friday, October 2, 2009

Writing: the missing key to college success?

American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom. Writing is how students connect the dots in their knowledge. Although many models of effective ways to teach writing exist, both the teaching and practice of writing are increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years. Writing, always time-consuming for student and teacher, is hard-pressed in the American classroom. Of the three “Rs” writing is clearly the most neglected.

Thus, began the April 2003 report by the National Commission on Writing. It was, for the most part, met with a collective yawn.

At the risk of dating myself, I must admit that my parents, one a teacher, taught me that grammar, rhetoric, and logical elucidation were the foundation of real learning. Yes, there was a time when writing was a much valued currency.

The panjandrums of perfect prose propel us on flights of fantasies away from a world increasingly populated by the “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Yes, that last phrase was the triumphant concoction of the late William Safire, the phrase-parsing wordsmith for the New York Times' Sunday magazine column on language usage. Writers are painters with words, capable of eliciting feelings of ecstatic pleasure or downright consternation.

Take George F. Will’s recent Op-Ed on denim, which included the following: “Writer Daniel Akst has noticed and has had a constructive conniption. He should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has earned it by identifying an obnoxious misuse of freedom. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he has denounced denim, summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche.” Yup, you can even get verklempt with words.

At its very best, writing has overturned oppression, incited revolutions, and transformed society. Yet, it remains an art form accessible to a privileged few. Shouldn’t a public education system, marketing itself as a great equalizer, show a robust commitment to writing?

Yes, I know that MCPS does have curricular components dedicated to writing. However, I believe that we need a system-wide, uniformly implemented, well-defined writing program. One of the missing “keys” to college readiness is, in my opinion, writing at a skill level appropriate for success in the SAT writing section.

To use words from the College Board, writing to “organize and express ideas clearly; develop and support the main idea; use appropriate word choice and sentence structure,” not to mention writing mechanics such as proper “diction, grammar, sentence construction, subject-verb agreement, proper word usage, and wordiness,” should be part of any self-respecting public school curriculum.

Writing is no longer a pleasure for the privileged, it is a practical necessity. So, let us celebrate our teachers who value writing and advocate for a separate, robust writing curriculum.

Finally, a confession—I wouldn’t have written this piece if not for the requests of two teachers, one who wished to remain anonymous, and the other Mrs. V. I dedicate this piece to you and hope that you know you are appreciated.

1 comment:

  1. Kumar, I agree that one of the missing “keys” to college readiness is writing at a skill level appropriate for success in the SAT writing section.

    Unfortunately, most large colleges do not take an applicant's SAT writing score into consideration when making an admission decision, at least according to most colleges' published admissions criteria. The "mid 50%" SAT writing score is not even published on the College Board web site for University of Maryland at College Park. (It is, however, published for some of the other Maryland colleges.)

    Hence, under the "keys to college readiness" plan, there is little reason for MCPS to focus on writing skills.


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