Sunday, November 01, 2009

Writing: It's Back!

Our culture's focus on academic basics (the "Three R's:" reading, writing, and 'rithmetic) shifts in both direction and intensity as the world around us changes.

Buoyed in past decades by the Cold War, the U.S./Soviet space race, and the development of personal computers, "'rithmetic" never falls far out of favor (although recent shifts toward questionable pedagogy and educational policy have contributed to a precipitous drop in America's mathematical competitiveness, leading in the last several years to a desperate hyper-focus on the need to improve math and science instruction in the U.S.; read my post titled "Mediocrity in Math Instruction," here).

Reading returned to prominence about 20 years ago, as the disastrous effects of "whole language" instructional theory became obvious and the specter of a generation that couldn't read lead to crash literacy programs and the return of "old fashioned" phonics.

Now that we've awakened to the new text-based Internet age, and while the need to read well remains unsurpassed, good writing skills are quickly becoming indispensable. As textual information begins to fill our lives more and more, the ability to communicate easily, effectively, and convincingly in writing is taking on an importance similar to that given to speaking and presentation skills during the recent heyday of the telephone, radio, and television. Whereas in the 20th century one strove to cultivate effective personal communication skills and a "good phone voice," what will matter as much or more to the next couple of generations will be the acquisition of excellent remote communication skills and a "good email voice." Those living during the first part of the 21st century will need superior writing skills that combine the powerful vocabulary and grammatical training emphasized during the 1960's and 70's, the informal, easy self-expression popularized during the 1980's and 90's, and the conciseness and brevity demanded during the "age of email" of the 2000's and beyond.

After suffering years of insult, injury, and neglect ... writing is back ... stronger than ever. It's finally time to welcome good, fluent writing skills into the American cultural mainstream once again.

An editorial on the increased importance and essential inter-relatedness of reading and writing appeared recently in the L.A. times – read it here.

Here's to the return of sentence diagramming, choosing the right word, and the crafting of a well-turned phrase!


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