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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The kids can't write

Photo: Jan Vašek/Pixabay

Students are encouraged to express themselves, writes Elizabeth Grace Matthew, who's taught writing at several universities, on The Hill. But most are unable to "reliably construct grammatical sentences" or write at what used to be the fifth-grade level.

"Most of my students did not know basic grammar and punctuation because they were never drilled and tested on these concepts," she writes.

My Italian-American grandmother, by contrast, who attended Philadelphia public schools in the 1930s and had parents who spoke broken English and no books in her home, could reliably capitalize and punctuate basic sentences. This would put her in the top 10 percent of the hundreds of students I taught over the years, at least half of whom had college-educated parents.

Her grandmother was taught in school to meet the same standards as children from more privileged families.

(My grandmother, who was born in what's now Ukraine, left school after eighth grade with good reading and writing skills.)

"Mastery precedes" creativity, writes Matthews. "As any top-tier jazz musician can explain, to break rules productively, you must first know the rules and how to follow them."

But many of her college students hadn't mastered syntax, grammar and punctuation. Furthermore, their writing assignments "focused on emotional self-expression, not rational argumentation." Most "were not only poor writers but also underdeveloped thinkers."

New AI technology will be able to fix the errors in students' writing. Some could use AI as a writing coach -- not a way to cheat. What are the odds it will

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Steve Sherman
Steve Sherman
Dec 23, 2022

" Most "were not only poor writers but also underdeveloped thinkers."

the latter causes the former not the other way around

Jan 03, 2023
Replying to

No, I disagree. If you have never been taught phonixs, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, or punctuation, you can't possibly form a devoiped thought. You're spending too much time on these basic building blocks to read or write fluently. Without being able to engage a sentence, you can't engage a paragraph. Without a paragraph, no essays.

Much like a student who can't do arithmetic is lost in a complicated word problem that requires facility with fractions and decimals, a student can't build up to a meaningful thesis without the basic structure and practice of the English language.


Dec 15, 2022

Want to see what happens when English and writing are not held in high regard as a subject to master?

I see more news headlines with bad spelling or poor grammar today than I ever did when I delivered newspapers as a teenager on my bicycle (of course, you wouldn't get hired as a writer or proofreader without actually knowing how to do those things back then either).



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