29.5.05

Another rant

Bert Webb writes that Technology Can Hurt Writing Skills, something I've been saying for a long time now. Here are a few salient comments from Mr. Webb:
I received an email from a very influential person in the education profession. Her email was a profession update and was addressed to hundreds of educational administrators... This person has earned a doctorate. She has been considered an expert in her field for decades. However, she wrote like a teenager talking to her friends on her instant messenger on Saturday night.

Knowing that most of my readers are professional men and women in various professions, we should not allow our writing styles sabotage our credibility when communicating with clients, peers, subordinates, and superiors. Yet, many of us do, thinking that, because we are using an electronic medium, we can circumvent the rules of grammar and best practices in written communication. I have also spent hours reading blogs where the standard of communication has been less than acceptable, in my opinion. Sometimes, this is due to the author trying to attract a more youthful demographic audience. Shame on us as professionals.
There is a blog I read for professional reasons that irritates me as much as this e-mail irritated Mr. Webb. The author of the blog (one that is sponsored, I might add, by one of the leading publications in the school library world) was, in a previous career-life, a reporter. To me, that suggests a certain standard for communication. Yet this blog is rife with typos and grammatical errors, making it difficult to read. The lack of consistency and transitional phrases just compounds the problem.

I'm not claiming that this blog doesn't have it's share of mistakes, but it's a personal blog, not a professional one. Granted, that's a rationalisation, and a bad one. I do try to edit out the most egregious "oopses" (and welcome editorial commentary that blue pencils my work).

I keep thinking about my students, and the errors they make. One of our English teachers aggressively drills the students on grammar and sentence structure, ensuring that they get some instruction in this increasingly arcane field. Sadly, even after a year of this, many still cannot write a five paragraph essay that hangs together. When they come to me for help, I find I often have to write "Explain" or "How?" or "Where is the evidence?" or "You didn't answer the question" in the margins. Unlike the writer of the blog mentioned above, they are young and still learning.

Reliance on spell check is another problem. I've noticed that many words I use now (blog, for example) are not in the dictionary and must be learned. I tell my students (and myself) to read and reread so as to catch the mistakes that are not caught by the computer program. I mention one student, now a sophomore in college, who handed in a paper extolling the life and work of Martian Luther King, Jr. (the well-known alien rights activist).

Raising the bar shouldn't be necessary: we should all know how to present ourselves as competent, educated adults (Has anyone read the blog of a so-called celebrity who writes in verse? I tried and gave up because it sounds like the babblings of someone in need of remedial 6th grade English.). Those of us representing an organization or writing as professional experts should be held to an even higher standard.

1 comment:

Aravis said...

The children at the local elementary school here aren't even taught grammar! My brother and sister went through this school and it drove Mom and I nuts. Their teachers felt it was more important that the kids get their ideas down on paper and express themselves rather than get tied up on conventional things like structure!!! This isn't a special school with certain goals, just a public elementary school. When my siblings entered middle school, their teachers were appalled and graded their papers harshly, demanding a standard the students had never been taught. The worst part of all is that the middle school is housed in the same building as the elementary School, with the same principal and administrators!

Professionals such as the one you mentioned only make this problem worse. When you try to explain to a teen that they need to polish their writing style for the future, they point to individuals such as the one you wrote about and tell you that obviously writing style isn't so important anymore, thus implying that you're out-dated and need to be more "with it."

It's aggravating.