Tuesday, June 25, 2013

To Read and Write

"In other words, there is a new and narrowing vocational emphasis in the way students and their parents think about what to study in college. As the American Academy report notes, this is the consequence of a number of things, including an overall decline in the experience of literacy, the kind of thing you absorbed, for instance, if your parents read to you as a child."

Verlyn Klinkenborg, "The Decline and Fall of the English Major," The New York Times, June 23, 2013.

Vocational has become a dirty word in higher ed, at least the four-year universities, while it leads a schizophrenic life in the world of community and technical colleges. The ability to write and communicate, however, is about as vocational as it gets in today's knowledge and service economy, so I'm not sure what the debate is really all about. My almost-second major in English did not produce great writing skills; I picked those up in planning school years later. But I did read a lot of novels. My older daughter mentioned recently that her year of writing in college was some of the best time she spent in the classroom, but she was looking to picking up specific skills in graduate school, like communication. I wonder if we need to develop a core curriculum for old-fashioned rhetoric that includes writing and oral arguments -- in high school and post secondary. Increasing the reading of fiction is a different challenge.

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