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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The kids can’t write (or reason)

Nearly 500 people — all college graduates — applied for a communications job at Marc Tucker’s organization. Candidates were asked to write a one-page summary of a report published last year. “Only one could produce a satisfactory summary,” writes Tucker.

The kids can’t write, he concludes.

. . . we do not build our curriculum around the assumption that we will be asking students to read demanding books—not just parts of books, but whole books—and then asking them to write, at length and in detail, about what they have read, explicating, analyzing, synthesizing and summarizing it, with insight and narrative skill that demonstrates their ability to think clearly. Writing is a craft.  Like any other craft, it is learned only by doing it, over and over and over, at increasing levels of challenge, under the watchful eye of an expert.  How on earth are our students to learn to write if we do not ask them to write, and write a lot, and write well?

Testing drives teaching, writes Tucker. Writing a research paper isn’t tested, so it isn’t taught.

If students were tested on their ability to write a lengthy analytical paper, who’d provide the expert feedback students need to improve? Tucker proposes requiring applicants for teaching jobs to submit 20-page papers which “analyze and summarize a topic from the literature in their field” and to “produce, on demand, a one-page summary of something they are given to read that is complicated and difficult.”

In a high-level remedial English class at Baltimore City Community College, students learned ways to combine sentences. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

As part of a Hechinger investigation on college remediation, Sarah Butrymowicz visited Carol Quine’s “high-level” remedial English class at Baltimore City Community College. She was teaching high school graduates ways to combine two sentences. It’s a lot harder than high school English, one student said.

Only 13 percent of BCCC students start in college-level courses.

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