EDUCATION….Ampersand writes today about one of my favorite pet peeves: the steady stream of allegations that education has gone completely to hell in America. Today’s example is a New York Times article about a report issued by the National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges that, unsurprisingly, finds that schools don’t put enough emphasis on writing.
Well, maybe they don’t, but as Ampersand points out, the Times accepts the report’s conclusions without presenting any evidence at all for them. So how do we really know?
I could go either way on this one. On the one hand, businesses these days mostly treat writing as a specialized skill: people are assumed to be lousy writers, and either no one cares or else their writing is simply passed along to experts who clean it up. Obviously, this speaks poorly for general writing skills.
On the other hand, about a year ago I ran across a prize winning senior essay written by my great aunt in 1906, and it was pretty mediocre. What’s more, some of it was almost certainly plagiarized, a fact that apparently went unnoticed by her teachers. So perhaps our ancestors weren’t quite as superheroic as they are sometimes made out to be.
Like Amp, I wish there were some real evidence on this score. It might well be that the critics are right, but it’s pretty hard to tell based on the conflicting and often panicky pronouncements of the education Cassandras. I would love to see some kind of comparison between current generations on a standardized test of some kind, perhaps given to a cross section of 20-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 60-year-olds. In practice, though, that’s probably pretty hard to do, so we’ll never know for sure how they actually compare to each other.
That’s too bad. Given both the importance of education and the huge amounts of money we spend on it, it would be nice to know how we’re really doing.