Writing is not a superfluous exercise
The Wyoming legislature this week advanced a bill that, according to U.S. News and World Report, removes the writing portion from a standardized college entrance exam. The excised writing segment will instead be replaced with a science test. One legislator claimed that the expense and the time were just too great to justify keeping the writing portion, especially since “most area colleges don’t require the writing test to gain entrance.”
That is a shame. Wyoming is not unique: Writing is in bad shape at many universities across the country. As The Washington Post reported a while ago, many college graduates “[can’t] write coherent prose,” a sad testament to the poor state of college compositional instruction today. That lackluster instruction, of course, begins well before college, likely in middle school if not sooner. But universities have exacerbated the problem; as the Post reports, “extensive writing is rarely assigned in many college courses,” in part because it’s “labor-intensive” (sheesh).
Every level of education should be teaching students how to write well; higher education should make intensive writing classes a requirement for every level of instruction, from freshman all the way through senior and into graduate school. Universities in particular are in a great place to teach good, clear, coherent writing; the average college workload can easily be fit to accommodate such a course.
Why is good writing important? Because good writing is both a symptom and a cause of good thinking. It is difficult to think well if one cannot write well; the ability to do the latter is usually a requirement of the former, in the workplace and in most facets of life. Messy, disorganized, sloppy writing both indicates and engenders messy thinking. If you’re not writing well, you’re probably not thinking well, and you probably won’t be able to think well, in the same way that you’re less likely to be able to fully relax in a filthy, cluttered living room.
Teaching bad writing, or no writing skills at all, does nobody any favors, least of all the students who are being cheated out of a valuable part of their education. Schools should not abandon writing; they should plunge their students headlong into it, the better to prepare them for a life of bright and productive thinking.