Laurence Musgrove has an interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed called “The Real Reason Students Can’t Write.” I think it’s interesting because I agree with just about half of it.
Musgrove, who is an English professor-type who teaches first year writing and who has been involved in some writing programs at different schools, suggests the following causes of “bad student writing:”
I believe most faculty think that when they find an error in grammar or logic or format, it is because their students donâ€™t know â€œhowâ€� to write. When I find significant errors in student writing, I chalk it up to one of three reasons: they donâ€™t care, they donâ€™t know, or they didnâ€™t see it. And I believe that the first and last are the most frequent causes of error. In other words, when push comes to shove, Iâ€™ve found that most students really do know how to write â€” that is, if we can help them learn to value and care about what they are writing and then help them manage the time they need to compose effectively.
I think that this is all very very true. Musgrove also suggests that a lot of “bad” student writing continues to happen across the curriculum for two reasons. First, it’s a lot easier for most professors to complain about their student writing than to actually do anything about it– like, you know, teach (as opposed to merely assign) writing. Second, students rarely face serious consequences for bad writing; bad writing might receive a less than excellent grade, but rarely do students fail as a result of their bad writing.
But then Musgrove kind of loses me when he proposes this:
All faculty members are hereby authorized to challenge their studentsâ€™ writing proficiency. Students who fail to demonstrate the generally accepted minimum standards of proficiency in writing may be issued a â€œwriting ticketâ€� by their instructors. Writing tickets become part of studentsâ€™ institutional â€œwriting records.â€� Students may have tickets removed from their writing records by completing requirements identified by their instructors. These requirements may include substantially revising the paper, attending a writing workshop, taking a writing proficiency examination, or registering for a developmental writing course. Students who fail to have tickets removed from their records will receive additional penalties, such as a failing grade for the course, academic probation, or the inability to register for classes.
Look, average people/students already think that English and writing professors are members of some sort of grammar Nazi patrol; this guy wants to give us the power to write actual tickets? No thanks.
I have been thinking lately though how it’s a problem that comp/rhet folks have reduced the role grammar, correctness, and proofreading in contemporary pedagogy too much. To me, I think this is especially a problem in writing classes beyond first year writing. But that’s another post for another time.