About a third of the companies reported that only one-third or fewer of their employees knew how to write clearly and concisely. The companies expressed a fair degree of dissatisfaction with the writing produced by recent college graduates - even though many were blue-chip companies that get the pick of the litter.
The plain fact of the matter remains that most college graduates cannot write a concise report in a short period of time if their jobs depended on it, and increasingly their jobs are depending on that skill. Having spent several years as a tutor at the University of Maryland Writing Center, I can tell you that most freshmen come to college incapable of writing in a cogent manner. While the curriculum of English 101 focuses on the basics of expository writing, for many students, that Freshman English class is the last class that focuses on the mechanics of good writing. Certainly, other classes require writing of some sort, but few professors outside of the English department grade on the mechanics of writing, rather these non-English professors grade on the content. Content is important and should comprise a major portion of the grade, but if the grading included a mechanics segment(i.e. grammar, spelling, layout, paragraph structure, arugmentative flow) in addition to content, I fear that most students would fail--which of course looks bad for the schools.
A proper education must include writing, and the only way to ensure that writing skills are taught is to test them, thus the SAT now includes an essay section. But, as Staples points out,
The National Council of Teachers of English attacked the College Board for adding a writing segment to the SAT, the college entrance exam required by an overwhelming majority of America's four-year colleges and universities. The test, which consists of a brief, timed essay and a multiple-choice section, has already put schools and parents on notice that writing instruction needs to improve...The group questioned the validity of the tests and trotted out the condescending notion that requiring poor and minority students to write in standard English is unfair because of their cultural backgrounds and vernacular languages.Let's break this down a little from an employer's perspective. As an employer I am not hiring someone who will write reports in their "vernacular language" nor do I care about their "cultural background." I need a person who can do the job and write reports, emails, and other assignments in standard English. I believe I am on safe ground when I say that other employers have the same criteria. On a societal level, if we allow minority and immigrant students to hide behind their "cultural backgrounds and vernacular languages" we then doom these students to employment beneath their skills because we have not provided them with the education and skills to compete.
The council also tried to discredit the idea of timed writing tests. The report seemed to suggest that the only way to judge writing was to consider student work that had been rewritten and edited over longer periods of time. Long-term projects are important, but they do not cover all of the kinds of writing that students will be called upon to produce either in college or in their lives. On the contrary, substantive writing on demand for reports, correspondence and even e-mail is now a common feature of corporate life.
The NCTE also suggests "the only way to judge writing was to consider student work that had been rewritten and edited over longer periods of time." What a load of rubbish! I cannot count the number of times I have been asked to produce a 2-3 page memo by the end of the day summarizing everything from client status to a change in the law or regulations. I didn't have the luxury of editing, rewriting, reviewing and then repeating. I had, on a good day, 6 hours to complete such a task--which often involved some research--not just six hours of writing. Usually I have less than 3 hours.
What these English teachers fail to grasp is that good writing is not about eloquent word choice or flowery grammar or exquisite sentence structure. Such concepts are good for novels and storied, but not for business memos or reports. Good business writing is about being concise and clear in your meaning. Good business writing should allow a manager or executive to be able to skim the memo, getting the major points and reading more in depth later.
As an employer, I would love to include a writing test as part of the interview process (but probably would get sued if I did because someone would argue that such a test is discriminatory). I can teach someone with a good mind and a solid foundation what they need to know to succeed in my line of work, what I don't have time to teach is how to write. The corporate world today floats on a sea of information, all of which has to be written about and explained. If a worker cannot adequately express an idea, in basic English, in a reasonably short space of text, then their value as an employee is greatly diminished.
In an era where testing has become the watchword, the fact that the College Board is now testing writing should be an indicator to English Teachers that there is more to English than good literature. The ability to write well, in a time pressured environment, is one of the keys to success. Schools, both high schools and colleges, need to spend more time teaching the mechanics of writing, the "American educational system that fails at every level to produce the fluent writers required by the new economy."
The SAT including a writing section in their test means that, at the very least, people will start to learn that writing matters, but significant steps need to be taken. Staples argues for a doubling of the time spent on writing instruction. I argue that writing instruction must go beyond the English classroom and should extend to all areas of education, including math and the sciences. Every instructor, at every level, should be grading for the mechanics of writing. Every teacher, regardless of their subject matter expertise, should not only know how to write well, but should be able to teach their students as well.
Failing to teach our children to write well leaves them ill-equipped for college and the workforce--just ask the Business Roundtable.
The Fine Art of Getting It Down on Paper, Fast - New York Times