I used to show my high school students a passage from Aristotle that was essentially a “kids today” rant, noting he wrote in the 300s BC. So I generally have little patience with anyone damning contemporary youth as if this generation is somehow quantifiably worse than the ones before. That is so much drivel.
Why Americans can’t write falls squarely in that sub-genre, but, alas!, that is just a mask for its real purpose: propagandizing for the Common Core.
Before we look at the nonsense in this really bad piece of writing that claims kids today can’t write, we must note that the writer, Natalie Wexler, chairs the board of trustees for the Writing Revolution, self-described as “a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to teaching students from underserved school districts to think clearly and reflect that thinking in their writing.”
So Wexler claims writing is in dire circumstances based on data from NAEP. The problem here is that in my own analysis of the writing section of NAEP (see pages 31-32), I have shown that the test is so badly constructed that we can draw no valid claims about writing at all.
If Wexler were credible on writing quality by American students, she would be aware that we have significant research on how students are being taught writing and what the consequences of those practices are: Applebee and Langer’s Writing Instruction That Works: Proven Methods for Middle and High School Classrooms.
Wexler would also know that, yes, students are not writing as much as they need to write, and in many ways, students arriving at college do not have the background in writing they should or that they need to write well in college.
But the real interesting part of that research is the cause of both our failure to teach writing well and students underperforming as writers in college: the standards and testing movement has effectively dismantled the composition movement that began in the 1970s and 1980s, notably because of the National Writing Project.
In short, Applebee and Langer found that teachers across several disciplines know more than ever about best practices in teaching writing, but because of high-stakes accountability, students are unlikely to receive that instruction or the practice they need to be competent young writers.
Therefore, it is easy and valid to extrapolate that there is no doubt that simply changing the standards will not change the corrosive impact the accountability movement has had on writing. Neither Common Core as standards nor the related high-stakes test will save writing, but they are both poised to continue ruining writing instruction.
We are left only with this: Wexler’s piece is yet more heinous Common Core propaganda, cloaked in the weakest of sheep’s clothing—a really bad piece of writing claiming students today cannot write.
For Further Reading