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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

The write stuff

Our students suck, not to put too fine a point on it, and they suck the most at writing:

Despite ramped-up efforts to improve high school students' writing skills, the state's average writing SAT score still lags behind the national average by 11 points. 

Indiana's average scores followed the national trend and fell slightly this year, but all of the state's average scores are below the rest of the nation on the most common test to predict college success.

"Overall, they're very disappointing," said Stan Jones, Indiana's commissioner for higher education. "There's no good news here, especially in the writing scores."

Indiana's average reading score was 497 -- 5 points below the national average. The state's average math score was 507 -- 8 points below the national average. And in writing, Indiana's average was 483, compared with the national average of 494. 

I've watched the steady decline of Hoosiers' writing ability for 30 years, as reflected in letters to the editor. I haven't seen a reduction in the number of people who really express themselves well -- those have always been few and far between. But an alarming number of people no longer seem able to string two coherent sentences together. And it's going to be an uphill struggle to improve things. Young people today know they can give and receive information without writing, and the texting they do is nothing but grotesque shorthand conveying banal superficialities. The only way to learn to write is to write.

Some believe it doesn't matter, that this is a natural evolution in communications, as the digital revolution replaces all hardware with dancing pixels. No need to write Cousin Fred a letter; just shoot him a video birthday greeting.

Maybe in 100 years, this will be so, but not in the shorter term. We sponsored a letters-to-the-editor contest for middle and high school students for about a dozen years, and I've talked to scores of classes. I told every one of them that any students who do just one thing -- learn to write clearly and concisely and with the tiniest bit of flair -- can then write their own tickets in whatever fields they choose. I've met many teachers who are up to the task -- they care and are willing to spend the extra time it takes -- but they need all the support we can give them.

Posted in: Hoosier lore


Bob G.
Thu, 08/30/2007 - 8:00am

Since I'm from Philly....that exempts me like there's NO tomorrow, so thank you very much.

I do agree that writing (and especially LETTER writing) has become a lost art...look at letters that were written as far back as WW2, or even the Victorian era.

Remember, if people can't judge you by what they SEE or HEAR, they will judge you by what you write. It's human nature.