Propositions: College students cannot write worth a damn. The business world values stellar communication skills. Yet universities do not teach how to write clear and precise prose.
Examine the evidence: It surfaces in business publications bemoaning the stumbling emails from job applicants. It runs rampant across the editorials of writers attempting to fend off the stultifying, jargon-saturated, preposition-heavy, hopelessly cautious style of academics.
In a 2011 nationwide assessment of writing skills, only 24 percent of 12th graders attained a mark of “proficient,” and a mere 3 percent scored at the “advanced” level. Almost three-fourths of high-school seniors fell below average.
The argument itself has become a trope. Yes, our generation struggles with writing.
As a former editor of student writing who trudged through mires of adverbs, as someone who relishes the fresh snap of a declarative sentence, I am sympathetic.
But this is indulgent of us. We should stop composing elegies for the writer. The written word is not yet dead; it is not even dying.
Instead, I would venture that what we have lost is not the ability to write, but a respect for the full range and potential of language.
We have reduced our conception of language to an abstract currency of words — logical units that designate and denote first and foremost. We exchange parcels of meaning.
The primary test of this language becomes intelligibility. Did you understand what I said? Did it make sense? Did I follow all of the rules — put the subject and object of the sentence in the correct order?