By Kristen Santer
When I first began the mandatory Composition II class at Fordham, a course designed to improve writing and analytical reading skills, my professor discussed how to develop a thesis, use proper grammar and effectively organize papers. I was surprised that we had to go over such elementary concepts, ones that had been ingrained in my head since junior high. Apparently, my teacher found it necessary to repeat these concepts even after she had read our essays, while my classmates took notes and asked questions regarding these topics, seemingly acquiring new information.
I was perturbed. Students still did not understand the fundamental skills involved in writing a scholarly essay. When we were asked to edit other students’ papers, I was astounded by the lack of clarity and strength that I found within them. True, there are some majors that do not require strong writing skills, but I find it difficult to understand how years of English classes could not have made a lasting impression. There are only so many times I can correct “you’re” to “your” before I wonder why students have not picked it up yet.
According to Bloomberg News, teachers have been reporting that, compared to five years ago, there has been a decline in vocabulary, grammar, writing and analysis. In addition, Dr. Azadeh Aalai of Psychology Today wrote an article last year about a noticeable decline in the quality of writing turned in by her students.
Although Aalai is a psychology professor, she believes that she is becoming an English instructor.
“So much of my feedback on these papers is focusing on such basic writing skills, that the coherency or theoretical merit behind the content is getting lost in the shuffle,” Aalai states.
Professors should not have to resort to teaching fundamental writing concepts to college students, especially when their course is not geared towards the humanities. These poor writing skills disrupt the curriculum and consume valuable time from professors and teachers.
I relate this to a lack of emphasis on English and other liberal arts courses, something that many studies also suggest. A 2010 study from Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that students with extensive liberal arts backgrounds have higher critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.
Regardless of these statistics, Business Insider reports that humanities only receive a fraction of federal funding that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs receive. According to the Los Angeles Times, the arts and humanities have experienced huge cuts in funding over the past five years, and there are no definitive plans for increasing federal support in 2016.
There has always been a disparity between the sciences and humanities, with the former receiving most of the support and praise over the last couple of decades. However, we are now seeing the results.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education published “The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011,” which stated that only 24 percent of high school seniors were proficient in writing. As of 2013, the statistic has remained static, with no indication of progress. Students are graduating high school without the ability to write, hindering their success both in college and in the workplace.
Colleges are attempting to prevent the deterioration of writing skills with remedial freshman writing courses. While colleges try to fix the problem, students applying for jobs soon realize that positions demand clear and adept writing from their employees. However, the lack of funding and support limits universities’ abilities to provide a solid base for its students.
Since students are not properly taught how to write, they begin to hate it. Students hate writing so much that plagiarism has become progressively popular and problematic. They become masters at enlarging their essays through tactics such as choosing the largest acceptable font and increasing the size of punctuation marks. If students had a firm foundation of writing skills, essays would come much easier to them and would not be as much of a hassle. Personally, writing essays seems more appealing than memorizing facts that I will not likely use or remember after I have completed the test.
If the humanities were taken more seriously, students would benefit from advanced writing skills and the ability to construct coherent arguments. We need to rearrange our priorities if we wish to make advances in the next few years, and catch up to other developed countries in terms of education.
There are many ways to teach students how to write, either through traditional learning methods such as vocabulary drills, or more eclectic and free-ranging methods that allow students to have more liberty. Regardless of the methods, nothing will improve unless we place a greater importance on funding and support for the humanities.
The skills students acquire in liberal arts courses are crucial for a successful career in the future. They should have a sound infrastructure and knowledge of writing that is useful and necessary in all fields and aspects of life. We need to encourage high school and college students to improve their writing skills if they want to be taken seriously in any sort of professional field.
Kristen Santer, FCRH ’17, is a Communication and Media Studies major from Stamford, CT.