|Kevin Drum has a post today on the perennial complaint about the decline in student writing. He wonders if the complaint has any validity:|
Is this true? Or just a case of old-fartism? I realize this isn't exactly a scientific survey or anything, but I'm curious to know what teachers at various levels think of this. I know plenty of them read the blog, so comment away. Is writing really a lost art?I agree with commenter #2, one "ACS":
Selection bias. University professors always use themselves as the archetypal "college student" to whom other college students are compared. This fails to take into account the fact that college students who go on to become college professors are, by definition, exceptional. Thus: college professors perpetually complaining about the incompetence of their students.Anyway, since we apparently have nothing new to say here these days, I thought I'd remind you (or direct newer readers) to one of our threads on this topic, which begins here (especially in the comment section), and then becomes kind of glorious when it prompts Truewit to post a bit of his first undergraduate Shakespeare essay. Simplicius followed suit, and so did I. I won't mention what the papers were about, because last time we posted it we got a million hits from college students searching for papers to plagiarize on those topics. But I just reread Truewit's post and laughed out loud, so apologies to those who've already heard this one, but I had to recycle it.
It's not impossible that college-level writing has gotten worse, of course, I just don't see any evidence of it. One commenter responds to ACS with:
That can't be right. Professors use their past students as a comparison when they claim that kids can't write, nowadays. There may still be selection bias, but not of the type you are proposing.Maybe it's a combination of nostalgic rose-tinted glasses (for viewing former students) and the selection bias ACS reports, together with the selection bias that the memorable students are the good ones. But actually, I think most professors are in fact using themselves and their college friends as the comparison, not former students. Who can really remember students' papers from 10 years ago? Maybe the few great students you can recall, but I can barely remember my students from last semester, let alone last decade. But you can remember your own--or at least, as we show in our posts, you are more likely to believe you can remember your own.