Part of this new age of writing illiteracy stems from the unequal distribution of resources towards STEM and humanities in schools. With the emphasis on STEM fields accompanied by the stereotype that humanities are becoming obsolete in the workplace, it’s no surprise that our schools have taken emphasis (and funding) off of humanities subjects in schools. Only STEM subjects tend to cause real stress, because those are the “hard” ones—humanities classes typically point to a much lighter course load. Without the right funding, regulations, and expectations, humanities courses cannot be effectively taught, and students are thrown into college and the workplace ill-prepared for the writing tasks ahead.
As the years pass, our high school generation has become less and less proficient in basic writing conventions. Despite this, teachers are forced to score a student’s writing in comparison to other students’, which rewards subpar writing solely because it is better than the rest. With such a grade-centric school environment, it’s easy to simply equate scores with skill—especially in subjects like math and science, where there is often only one correct answer to a question. In the humanities, however, such lines are drawn between good and bad rather than right and wrong, making student performance difficult to standardize.
On the topic of standardizing, there are very few options for standardized testing of writing due to the large amounts of time and energy needed to score a student’s work. When grading an argumentative essay, for example, readers must pay close attention to sentence structure, textual evidence, and logical argumentation. The No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2002, penalizing schools for not meeting testing quotas. However, the testing requirements only included reading and math, which were recognized as the two most important skills for students. While harboring good intentions, the act forced teachers and schools to shift their curriculum to emphasize the testing material rather than striving to teach a balanced distribution of all subjects. With the threat of punishment looming overhead, both for school funding and teacher salaries, many schools had no choice but to ease emphasis on writing, history, and other subjects to make sure students could pass the standardized tests.
When the Every Student Succeeds Act replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015, writing, as a field of study under language arts, was added to testing requirements. While the new requirements were a large improvement from past years, standardized writing tests often reward rigid, rubric-defined pieces and fancy vocabulary while punishing creative students opting for an unconventional route. Such scoring systems, when reflected in local classrooms, give way for a new era of fill-in-the-blank writing to match the bare-bones structure taught in class. Students simply ask themselves what they think their teacher would like rather than what they truly want to say.
High school writing can be truly atrocious and embarrassing. I often find myself blanking on easy vocabulary or trying to make sense of a jumbled sentence when I write for school. However, writing is not only an academic skill—it is also a life skill. Without the ability to form clear, logical arguments or even to elaborate on a resume, our generation, as well as those who grew up without adequate instruction, will struggle in almost every profession in the job market.
Besides its practical uses, writing also helps us express ideas, shift perspectives, and learn about others. With the onslaught of digital media and entertainment, many of us have forgotten the pleasure of reading books and lost the appreciation for storytelling. It is a form of art to transfer emotions, sights, sounds, and feelings into words and readers, and good writing should continue to be commonplace.
For the sake of ourselves and our future generations, let’s rediscover the art of writing as soon as possible.