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Issues with Illiteracy

Posted by titantv on March 6, 2014 at 12:25 AM

A Column by Shelby Gordon 

 

In today’s society, the fine arts of reading and writing have fallen into shadows, while the concepts of math and science have been raised up on a pedestal. Schools encourage a class focus on advanced topics of math and science, claiming they will make you more appealing to colleges and will bring you closer to a successful career, even though some students might be more interested in an English concentration.

Then, when students are finally given a chance to enhance their reading and writing skills, the teachings fall short. Teachers are so focused on making sure their pupils pass the standardized tests that they end up teaching literature like an algebra class. The focus is on memorizing definitions and following formulas, rather than learning how to actually analyze literature and synthesize thoughts. Grammar skills are being lost in translation as composition assignments become more and more rare. As much as state testing programs claim to want to assess writing abilities, they lack the motivation to actually read and critique students work. For several years now, free response answers have been thrown out. Teachers are aware of this uncaring attitude from the state, and most choose to remove things from the curriculum that they know will never be tested, such as grammatical and language skills. Previous generations remember taking grammar lessons every year, but when I look back on the education I will be finished within a years time, I remember receiving only two lessons in my entire schooling career. There is a generation-wide lack of knowledge, and it’s not uncommon to find young people who have never read a book or do not know how to sign their names in cursive.

Mr. Andy Ferguson, a teacher in the English department at McDowell High School, believes this lack of student knowledge is also a byproduct of technological advances, saying “The art of composition is in the middle of a paradigm shift, a change from writing to typing, where language rules from before no longer apply thanks to autocorrect”. When papers are typed in a word processor, auto correct is always there to save the day by changing misspellings and fixing grammatical errors.Students don’t have to know the rules behind changes, they can simply click a button and watch their paper transform. On the occasions when he asks for a handwritten assignment, Ferguson notices “Everyone I get can form a complete sentence, they just can’t punctuate it”. Issues with capitalizing letters are a frequent issue as well. On the same page, no one has to read anymore because of internet access. Book summaries and analysis can be found on any number of websites, and students can write functional essays based on the thoughts of someone else without ever putting in their own brain power.

Without changes being made early on in a student’s education, such as elementary school, this lack of intelligence will continue to spiral out of control. Students need freedom from a young age to explore what kind of literary works they might like. Whether it’s mystery novels or comic books, give a child something they are interested in and that’s when the learning begins. You can teach a student the basic necessities of a story without picking one for them, and there is no set theme that has to be discussed. Allow them to explain the elements of the story as they see it, rather than memorizing simple definitions and the supposed right answers, and the skills of analysis will stick with them forever. Grammar and language lessons must be taught again from the bottom up, because if the style in which we communicate with each other is lost, so is our culture and history as a whole.

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