Why do college graduates possess such poor writing skills? An op-ed from the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal attempts to answer this question by pointing to the intrusion of politics into the classroom.
Stephen Combs, a former instructor of freshman composition at Valencia College, begins by citing a 2002 statement from the College Board’s National Commission on Writing that expressed “growing concern within the education, business, and policy-making communities that the level of writing in the United States is not what it should be.”
He proceeds to present several examples of business leaders bemoaning “poorly written material” from recent college graduates their companies hire.
Students graduate high school and arrive at college with “fully established sentence rot,” requiring universities to offer first-year composition classes to try to teach freshmen how to write. These classes fail. Why? “Political activism appears more important than grammar, sentence structure, and thesis development” in these classes.
First-year composition should teach writing and nothing else. But at too many colleges the mission fails because writing teachers, with the support of their English departments and administrators, use their classrooms as pulpits to indoctrinate their captive-audience students in the professor’s own political ideology. Politics overtakes writing improvement. And in some courses, involvement in community activism of the professor’s choosing is a requirement.
He presents a course description from the City University of New York that informs students the course will “practice using the strategies social activists use in documents that further the causes of social justice.”
This perverts the intention of simply teaching students how to write:
Course descriptions at other schools often include such terms as social justice, inclusion, community service, radical feminism, elimination of masculine and feminine pronouns, promotion of homosexual and illegal alien rights, degradation of Western Civilization, and destruction of the white male power structure. Courses often follow various theories that the professor favors: feminist, Marxist, queer.
The article observes the cases of several professors who have very transparently pushed social justice values into their ostensibly basic writing classes. “One must ask, however, whether courses should include anything but writing,” Combs writes. For him, “When politics and anything-goes rhetoric replace rigorous writing instruction free from the distractions of hot-button issues, students suffer.”
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