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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."

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