Monday, October 16, 2006

Content really matters -- in writing too

I'm going to file this one under "I don't make this stuff up."

Here's the plug in the October issue of Educational Leadership (a monthly publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, or ASCD) for an article about putting content back into writing:

Short on facts. Long on touchy-feely. If this characterizes the expository writing that high school students are turning in, what's to happen to them in college?

So wonders Will Fitzhugh, editor and publisher of the Concord Review, who's also founder of the National History Club and the National Writing Board.

According to Fitzhugh,

Some readers may mistakenly assume that writing with content is common in schools. In 2002, the Roper Organization conducted a study...and found that in U.S. public high schools, 81 percent of history teachers never assign a research paper as long as 5,000 words...and 62 percent never assign a 3,000-word nonfiction paper (Center for Survey Research and Analysis, 2002). Although 95 percent of teachers surveyed believed that research papers were “important” or “very important,” most reported that they did not have time to assign and grade them.
Fitzhugh concludes:

In 2005, comedian Stephen Colbert introduced the idea of truthiness into the English language. The term characterizes speech or writing that appears to be accurate and serious but is, in fact, false or comical. In college, I learned that one of the objectives of critical thinking is to help us distinguish appearance from reality. The goal of truthiness is to blur that distinction. On satirical news programs, like The Daily Show, this dubious practice brings the relief of laughter, but on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning—in which students are told that it's OK to make things up and to invent experts and “quote” them—it just brings confusion.

The danger is that practices like these can lead high school students to believe that they don't need to seek information about anything outside of their own feelings and experiences. However, college students are still expected to read nonfiction books, which obviously deal with topics other than their personal lives. Students also have to write research papers in which they must organize their thinking and present material coherently. Too many students are not prepared to do this, and many end up dropping out of college. What a terrible waste of hopes and opportunity.

So what kind of content-driven writing is happening in your child's life? It's a question worth thinking about.


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