We’re Screwed

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Recently I was having a conversation about school with Noodge 1. He’s a junior in high school. This is the year that counts. Harder classes. The grades colleges focus on.Blah, blah, blah. But I’m concerned. Always have been. Kids today don’t know how to write well.

I teach creative writing classes to students of all ages. I was also an adjunct professor a few years back. I’ve published three novels. I know a little bit about writing. As a mother and a teacher, I’m shocked at how little time schools spend on grammar and sentence structure. Not to mention, idea development and cohesive thinking. I know you’re going to say it’s the aptitude test and the schools don’t have time. I don’t care. They need to.

While Noodge and I were talking he mentioned his friend who was writing a paper for history class. An AP history class. That stands for Advanced Placement. Those AP classes can mean possible college credit. Noodge’s friend needed to draw a conclusion in his writing. That’s fine. No worries so far. Until the young man stumbled for the correct word.

What did he write, you ask? He said, “We were screwed.” Yes, ladies and gents. Screwed. The young man could not, did not know how, to come up with a synonym for screwed in a paper that should be college level. Don’t be mistaken, this was not dialogue. Screwed was the only word he knew. And obviously he doesn’t know what a thesaurus is.

Who let this child down? Was it pure laziness? Perhaps. Or is it something more? Are we so busy worrying about The Tests that we side step what’s important? How are these kids going to get their point across in the real world?

Or is the problem that schools squash the love of reading and reading is the best way to build vocabulary. Our high school has implemented a new philosophy in their English department. Allow the students to choose books they want to read. Revolutionary! And about time, I’d say. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a need to read the classics. Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors and if it wasn’t for high school I don’t know when I would’ve found him, but if my only exposure to reading had been Canterbury Tales I’d be washing cars for a living instead of writing. I’ll tell you that. Chaucer is not on my list of top ten favorites. No offense to Mr. Chaucer.

I wonder what the history teacher said to Noodge’s friend. Did the teacher pull this boy aside and explain there are better ways to say, “We’re screwed.” Or did the teacher just take points off. Or maybe the teacher laughed and gave him extra credit. It’s all in the perspective, I suppose.

If I had been the teacher, I would’ve pulled the young man aside and asked him to come up with something better. I would’ve challenged him to use that big brain of his. No short cuts, no easy way outs.

Our kids need to know how to write well developed, thoughtful sentences. They need to know a paragraph holds one idea at a time. It isn’t necessary to repeat themselves in every paragraph to make a point and please don’t start each new idea with “Then.” Stay away from the verb “to be.” And for the love of all things holy, you cannot create a theme in a piece of writing by copying another author’s style.

It isn’t easy to teach writing or anything for that matter. I do blame The Tests for short changing our kids and I blame those that push those tests for selfishly motivated reasons. Let’s go back to the old way of doing things. Everything old isn’t bad and everything new isn’t great.

Because if the younger generation can’t write a lousy paper for history class, then you bet we’re screwed.





5 thoughts on “We’re Screwed

  1. Great essay, Stacey. Reading is absolutely the best way to learn writing (which in turn develops critical-thinking skills) — be it novels, nonfiction, periodicals, short stories, what have you. I think that part of the problem, in addition to what you’ve addressed here, is that most of what kids read today isn’t professionally written, edited, and published material like what you and I grew up on; rather, it’s hastily typed text messages (which are 90% emojis, anyway), e-mails, and poorly written blog posts. If one unconsciously absorbs the style and structure of what one reads, then what are today’s kids learning when the lion’s share of their reading materials are short-form texts and e-mails riddled with grammatical and structural errors? That just leads to a self-perpetuating style of carelessness.

      1. I always enjoy your comments, Sean. And I agree with you. Kids spend a lot of time in front of a screen reading blog posts, short and I mean short, news articles, etc. They don’t have the attention span to sit down with Dante’s Inferno any longer. I wonder if they still read that in school? I’ve been asked more than once in my life how did I know the $,25 word I had just used. My answer: Reading.

        When I was an adjunct professor, sometimes my students would use text language in their papers. I had to explain they weren’t writing a quick email to buddy, (texting wasn’t the craze it is now) and I would take points off if they insisted on using UR or 2 or GR8. College kids. I would read their papers, many of them no longer than a page, and think how did they get into college with the writing I saw.

        By the time my kids hit the fifth grade, I saw where things went off the rails.

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