Leef’s latest Forbes column reflects on college students’ poor writing skills

George Leef devotes his latest Forbes article to the dismal state of writing among the current crop of college graduates.

Suppose you sent your daughter to a music camp—an expensive camp lasting months. She had said that she wanted to learn the violin, so you bought her a nice one and sent her off to camp.

Upon her return, you ask how the camp was and she replies, “Great! We studied lots of stuff about music and the violin.” Then you ask her to play something.

“Well, we didn’t play much and I still don’t know how to tune my instrument. But it was still a terrific experience!”

You would probably think that a music camp ought to concentrate on essentials first—tuning, scales, simple pieces—before moving on to music theory, music history, conducting technique, and so on.

For many American students, college is like that music camp. They take lots of courses and study lots of stuff (or at least seem to), but don’t even learn how to use the English language well. You might think that would be a top priority, but actually it’s not a priority at all.

A recent CNBC article, “Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad” puts a spotlight on this remarkable omission. Companies are trying to fill many job openings but find that hard, even with lots of un- and under-employed college graduates looking for work. “Often,” writes author Kelley Holland, ”the mismatch results from applicants’ inadequate communication skills. In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates’ inability to speak and write clearly.”

She quotes Brandeis University professor William Ellet, who says that the neglect of writing starts early in school and often continues straight through college: “Nobody takes responsibility for writing instruction.”

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