CNN’s reporting that a National Commission on Commissioned Writing Professionals, or some such nonsense, reports that kids in school cannot clap together enough ramshackle sentences to impress the academic commissioners. Undoubtedly, though, the students are floating lazily on a tide of their own scholastically-induced self-esteem while trying to use emoticons to describe the sentiment of Julius Caesar when he said, “Et tu, Brute?”
The commission, or some other commission (I get confused since the article apparently refers to three or four different bodies), most heartedly recommends five points:
- Every state should revisit its education standards to make sure they include a comprehensive writing policy.
I sincerely hope that in the tablet handed down from the commission, it didn’t chisel in a pronoun disagreement between every state and their. Nevertheless, this sounds a lot like each state should chair a statewide commission of its own, or three.
- Those writing policies should aim to double the time most students spend on writing and insist that writing be taught in all subjects and in all grades. They should also require writing theory in teacher licensing.
Of course, a national commission would want a national solution, and doubling time spent on writing might be too much in many cases. Unless they propose making the school day fourteen hours, they’re asking schools to take that time from other programs–programs with their own national commissions, no doubt.
- Political leaders should call for a national conference on writing.
It’s a special call, sort of a trilling not unlike a ruby-throated thrush. A clarion call that alerts the flock that it’s time to feed on tax dollars scattered among the golden fields. Of course, calling is not action, but perhaps that’s best, since the action would be more expensive contemplation by the distinctly non-ascetic wandering wisemen who sit on these committees.
- Higher education should provide all teachers, no matter what their discipline, with courses in how to teach writing. Writing courses for students should be improved.
Of course, higher education used to require courses in writing, rhetoric, and other thoughtful disciplines until some committee said it should focus on whatever discipline the student chose to pursue. The courses are available as it is, but when you’re twenty, you’re more into studying the opposite, or the same, sex. Besides, higher education is part of the system that’s churning out students who cannot write, including teachers, I would assume.
- States and the federal government should provide more money so schools have the time and staff needed to focus on writing.
Tkaching! Now we’re into it. Spend our way out of stupidity, or at the least keep the committees and commissions running so the academic experts don’t have to teach students. The old saying intones, “Those who can’t do, teach,” but apparently there’s a corollary that says, “Those who can’t teach, administer, lobby, and commiss.”
Poor writing isn’t a problem in itself; it’s a symptom of poor thinking skills. Our culture has shifted from a deliberate, Enlightenment-thinking culture into a quick reflexes culture. From the multi-tasking Business World, to the short attention span leisure of television, newspapers, and laddie magazines, our culture breeds Video-Game-Reactors that can do a lot of quick things simultaneously and who are lost trying to puzzle out a point or an argument, much less put it on paper using the set of words designed to deliver the message concisely.
You want Brian’s tips for better writing? Here, have some for $0 in tax revenue:
- Do it yourself.
It’s okay to take a couple of classes at the college if you want, but it’s a starting point. Doing the bare minimum you need to finish the class, whether it’s just a couple five page papers or participating in unholy group writing assignments, won’t teach you how to write well. They’ll teach you to write enough to get by.
- Read a lot.
Read cereal boxes, newspapers, magazines (and not just laddie magazines). The exposure to writing styles, words, and turns of phrase will give you fodder for that slot machine in your hand to improve the odds that something you click out on a keyboard will be a jackpot. Although this is not necessarily the case, as the last metaphor proves.
- Write a lot.
Write every night. Get a blog and run off at the fingertips as much as you can. Send letters to long-lost friends and family members.
- Workshops won’t teach you how to write.
Join a workshop if you want, or suffer through an academic one, but understand that the workshoppers can only tell you what they think of what you write. They can’t tell you if it’s good or not. But if they react the way you want them, whether that’s to make them mad or to revulse them, tells you if you’re doing it right.
- Drop the IM and E-Mail habits.
Current standards, or lack thereof, let you get away with shortcuts, emoticons, and poor diction. They sux.
- And then read and write some more.
Like playing a musical instrument, you can pick up the mechanics easy enough, but practice and improvisation over a period of time will lead to natural, effective, and purty written communication.