Umpteenth article on student writing (but this one says its good!)

Here’s a piece in Inside Higher Ed that might come in handy for English 596 for the Fall: “Worse Than Ever?” by Laurence Musgrove. It’s a refreshing piece because it actually makes the argument that I think is clearly the case: students are not actually becoming worse writers. And it’s a frustrating piece because there are a whole bunch of comments that basically say “I don’t care what various forms of evidence say– I still think that the kids are going to hell in a handbasket!”

At times like these, I always like to remind folks of one of my favorite quotes from the canon of ancient Greek rhetoricians; it comes from Isocrates’ Antidosis

Yes, and you have brought it about that the most promising of our young men are wasting their youth in drinking-bouts, in parties, in soft living and childish folly, to the neglect of all efforts to improve themselves; while those of grosser nature are engaged from morning until night in extremes of dissipation which in former days an honest slave would have despised. You see some of them chilling their wine at the “Nine-fountains”; others, drinking in taverns; others, tossing dice in gambling dens; and many, hanging about the training-schools of the flute-girls.And as for those who encourage them in these things, no one of those who profess to be concerned for our youth has ever haled them before you for trial, but instead they persecute me, who, whatever else I may deserve, do at any rate deserve thanks for this, that I discourage such habits in my pupils.

In other words, about 2400 years ago, the teacher/writer/rhetorician Isocrates was noting the bad habits of Greek young men– basically, back then, they too had too much in the way of drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll. The fact that adults/elders have problems with young people strikes me as more a factor of adults/elders facing their own mortality and distance from their own wasted youth than anything else.

One thought on “Umpteenth article on student writing (but this one says its good!)”

  1. Oh, I love ancient “Johnny can’t write” quotes. More please! Here’s my fave, from 1739:

    [I]n this Day [. . .] School-Boys are expected to be led, sooth’d, and entic’d to their studies by the Easiness and Pleasure of the Practice, rather than by Force or harsh Discipline drove, as in days of Yore. For while some of them are too Copious in Things not so immediately the Concern of Boys at School, most are too Brief in Things really necessary for Youth to be inform’d of, and none at all so happy or methodical as to distinguish between One and T’Other. (xiii)

    John Holmes, The Art of Rhetoric Made Easy

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