I am in continual conversation with myself in the chambers of my mind asking questions related to a topic at hand:
- Are you believing and acting on hope and optimism based on truth and reality, or rather are you thinking and behaving reactively and in general denial against truth and reality?
- Do you truly believe you can stem the fully established and entrenched tide of technology and what many consider as “progress” related to the topic at hand?
- Am I simply a remnant, a dinosaur currently sequestered to the Endangered Species List of irrelevant old pedagogues from an ancient time long since past?
- Or am I acting in a way to attempt to preserve a tool that can and will lessen the academic morass in which I see our nation heading, a morass that is turning students into robots of mind control for dominant manipulation?
The topic at hand centers on whether contemporary students
- Have lost the writing skills that have been increasingly undervalued not only within their peer groups, but more importantly, from their educators within the schooling institutions of the nation, from the elementary and secondary grades into the highest levels of higher education?
- And if this is indeed the case, can we as university educators bring students up to at least a better place in their writing skills?
We must address an even more basic question: Do people today need a high level of writing skills to succeed in our ever-changing world?
I am versed in Howard Gardner’s theories of “Multiple Intelligences”: Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist.
I have written critiques on how our educational systems focus, primarily in assessment tools, on Linguistic and Logical/Mathematical, and how this is inherently inequitable and disempowering to students who are not particularly strong in these areas, but, rather, possess other strengths in some of the other “Intelligences.”
But I have witnessed over the years as an educator how students are asked less and less by their institutions to develop and maintain high levels of competence in writing, especially in the areas of developing and constructing well-structured, well-written, theses and lines of argument using reputable documentation.
Many educators allow students to use bullet points rather than constructing full sentences and paragraphs in their papers. Many educators allow students to employ contractions used in texting and at times even to use emojis in their papers.
Many educators have dropped complete writing assignments in favor of other activities such as watching and discussing an increased number of videos or engaging in more small group discussions. While these other activities certainly have the potential for enriching overall pedagogical strategies and need to be included within the overall mix, this cannot and should not be done at the expense of – in lieu of – students’ expressive writing instruction and practice.
Have these institutions lowered their emphasis on writing skills by bowing to the realities that social media platforms pose, platforms to which our students have developed addictions – yes, additions!
Have these institutions simply thrown in the metaphorical towel and conceded defeat? Or rather, are these skills no longer needed or necessary?
There is an extremely thin line between educators showing sensitivity to students’ needs and sinking to the lowest common denominator. By doing the latter, are we really meeting their needs to provide them with the best education we can possibly offer?
I write this with obvious concern and, quite frankly, frustration. I am sure that I sound like my former teachers who rang the perennial warning of “Oh what’s become of these students nowadays?” I am afraid I have become a cliché.
I do question whether I am filtering my analysis and my concern through essentially a white western lens, which has traditionally colonized other ways of teaching, knowing, and expressing. This is especially true considering traditions based on oral communication and on oral histories. Also, am I limiting a more multimodal approach and downplaying the oral, auditory, and kinesthetic forms of teaching and expression?
Within my pedagogical toolbox, I bring out the many modes as well as combining so-called “western” with forms considered “non-western.” I aim to be continually conscious of centering my teaching in culturally responsive ways and forms.
But I have real concerns about the direction of education, and therefore, the very direction of our country and its standing in the world. I perceive our nation moving forward in retrograde equivalent to the time before the invention of the movable type printing press where only the privileged elite were provided access to reading materials and with training to read.
Paradoxically, with the virtual explosion of media platforms, which has exponentially expanded printed materials and forums for expression, users’ writing skills seem to have degraded to shorthand code that none but other users can comprehend. Are these users the new privileged elite, or, rather, are they the new masses being left behind by the truly skilled writers?
I still believe that my responsibility is to prepare the best educated, aware, and articulate critical thinkers that I possibly can. And I still believe that writing skills are one component – a very important component – in this responsibility
This post is republished on Medium.
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