Do you feel that the quality of writing has gone down?

United States
December 7, 2008 3:38pm CST
I read an editorial recently from an editor who very colorfully bashed English departments in colleges for their new theory on teaching. What the theory states is that language is neither correct or incorrect. Whatever a student writes is their expression and cannot be judged right or wrong. They are not referring merely to content, but to technicalities as well. In this theory the rules of grammar are "oppressive." The editor was not happy with this theory or the product it was promoting. The product he had to sift through to find publishable material. What do you think? Is Ellsworth Tooey alive and well? (If you don't get it, don't worry).
2 people like this
5 responses
@rosdimy (3936)
• Malaysia
8 Dec 08
It is sad to hear that there are people who claim the rules of grammar are oppressive and actually apply this theory in English departments of their respective colleges. If this goes on the general quality of writing would go further down. As it is the general quality is something not to be proud of. My grammar is less than perfect but I prefer sticking to the rules. Grammar is important because it is a framework of language. Without any framework there would be no shape for the language. Thus it becomes difficult to form a smooth communication with other people. We do not have to go far to see this scenario. Currently there are postings with bad grammar, There should be efforts made to halt the spread of this theory. Most probably Ellsworth Toohey is alive and well, planning and scheming on what should be done next. - rosdimy -
2 people like this
• United States
15 Dec 08
Thanks for the correction of Toohey's name. I hadn't seen it written in so long, I'd forgotten. And I agree, he's plotting away. Probably loving every minute of it. You're right about the framework. Without it, we'd be babbling at each other and nobody would understand anything. In the written language, the rules are much less breakable. Because it has no context other than itself. The words on a page don't come with facial expressions, tone of voice and breathing cues. The words have to speak for themselves, including the punctuation. And I'm not one to preach on punctuation. I struggle with it every day, as some of my posts can attest. Blast those stupid semicolons. Vonnegut was right about them. I'm not sure if I can quote it, but it's worth looking up. However, I try to stick with the conventions because it's important that I'm understood. The concept that something which makes our lives easier is oppressive, boggles my mind. And these are people who are entrusted with the education of the next generation. While, I'll admit, I did not find diagramming sentences fun, it was useful. I was particularlly fond of the multiplication tables, either, but nobody thinks they're oppressive. At least, not so I've heard. The only way to stop this theory, is to speak out about it. Condemn it for what it is, the dumbing down of society. Lowest common denominators do not make for great leaps in our civilization. They lead to its downfall.
@sierras236 (2740)
• United States
7 Dec 08
I believe in the rules of grammar. I think there are a few exceptions: The first draft, and Mark Twain. The rules exist to maintain consistency in English writing. This is so that the average reader can understand what the writer is trying to say. It can be difficult to translate the ideas of the writer. The meaning and ideas could be missed or even interrupted wrongly. This is very frustrating for both reader and writer. I think the whole point of writing is to get readers to understand an opinion, a point of view, or a story. If the words don't make sense, often the meaning is lost. Language very clearly follows a set of rules. It is how writing was developed, so everyone could understand each other.
2 people like this
• United States
14 Dec 08
I agree wholeheartedly. Without the conventions, nothing would be understood. Before we learn to speak, each of us has our own language. If we never learned the language of others around us, we'd each be completely incomprehensible. The same is true for writing. However, I would add James Joyce to your list of permissable deviations from the rigid grammar rules. From what I understand Ulysses is still considered great literature. Not that I understood it. :) However, you make an interesting point by bringing up Twain. There are circumstances where rigid adhesion to grammar would be detrimental to the work. Huckleberry Finn is an excellent example of this. Part of the charm of the book is the use of the vernacular language of the Deep South of the time. Without it, it would not have been as powerful as it was. The dialogue is rife with errors, because those the language was rife with those errors. But, and this is key, Twain knew exactly what he was doing. He knew the rules and chose to ignore them for effect. Not everyone is gifted enough to pull that off.
@jenshak (42)
• United States
8 Dec 08
Speaking as a professional writer, I am disgusted with the "new school of thought" on what is considered acceptable writing. English departments in high schools and colleges should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking about allowing students to write however they feel like writing. This is part of the problem with youth today, first we let mathematics slip. Instead of teaching children how to solve basic math problems with thier heads they were given caluclators. Which is why when you go into McDonald's the cashier can not give you proper change unless they entered it into the register first!As far as writing goes, I will agree that writers should have the freedom to express thier thoughts and feelings without judgement. HOWEVER, this doesn't mean that you should be allowed to write however you want. This doesn't mean that we throw out the rules of grammar and punctuation! If you can not write a piece using the proper rules then you shouldn't be writing. As a matter of fact, you shouldn't even consider yourself a writer. When we are talking about academic papers for school, or editorial pieces in magazines and newspapers you need to be able to write as if you are an educated person. It is a matter of having self respect, and respect for the profession. Unfortunately the youth of today would rather play a video game over reading a book, or sit on the internet reading web content that an 8th grader could've written instead of reading something solid. Granted, there is a time and place for every type of writing. This is part of the beauty of writing. Take a look at any of the great literary works, they are not all written using the same form. The use language to express ideas and bring about thoughts in the reader's head, drawing you into what you are reading as if you are a part of the work. They do this by following grammatical rules! Shame on those that think we need to "relax" when it comes to standards of writing. The problem with this country and our educational system is that we have become to relaxed. That is why America's global power is slipping, that is why jobs are leaving our country... take a close look at the educational standards of other countries that America feels superior to... where are we ranked and where are they ranked? The are much higher then we are. Rules of grammar oppressive! Give me a break, not following them, not demanding that they are adhered to is oppressive!
• United States
15 Dec 08
Hear! Hear! When you allow people to do "their own thing" you are chaining them to ignorance. The rules are not the oppressors, a lifetime of not being able to communicate is what causes oppression. If we do not force our students to follow the long-lasting conventions of the written words, we condemn them to be isolated from the world at large. The only thing I would question in what you wrote, and this is a honest question, is that when I learned journalism, we were taught to write at the 8th grade level. To be any higher than that ran the risk of being misunderstood. Does that axiom no longer apply? Apparently, the people who adhere to the theory of do what you want forgot that the all the greatest writers who broke the rules, knew them inside and out before doing so. Every profession has tools. Those tools are used to create the art. In writing, the rules of grammar are part of our toolbox. To discard them would be akin to a carpenter saying he/she didn't need nails.
• United States
15 Dec 08
Sad but true... the reason for writing at an 8th grade level is due to the assumption that most people can only comprehend at that level. I have some writing assignments where a client would like me to write at a sixth grade level. If that request is not a wake up call to Americans then I don't know what would be. Does it not sadden the heart to know that as a majority most adult Americans can only understand something that is written at an 8th or even 6th grade level. Yet here our univeristies go trying to encourage ignorance to meet the masses instead of challenging them to ignite the fire of ambition and improve the way their minds function! Do these children even understand Shakespeare? Have they spent any time on Walden Pond? Do they know who Mark Twain is?
1 person likes this
• United States
7 Dec 08
To me a writer or student writes what he or she wants and feels. With that said no one should correct the writer or student on what they write because the editor is not in the mind and heart of that writer. People need to relax on having a paper or article perfect; the reason I say need to relax is because editors focus on perfection that they make the article difficult to read thus loosing the reader because they can not understand the writer. Does this make any sense?
• United States
8 Dec 08
Well, there you go, Dori--the answer you were looking for. :-) Alexander, no, what you said doesn't make any sense, but it's a perfect example of what this discussion is about. Congratulations on your C-.
1 person likes this
• United States
14 Dec 08
Alexander7: When it comes to the writer's voice, I agree with you. An editor has to be careful about inserting his/her own voice into a piece. An editor is there to help the writer make a piece more coherent and flow better. However, I have to take issue with saying that any correction is a bad thing. We have grammatical rules for a reason. They make written communication universally understandable. Without those conventions it would be impossible for one to understand something written by someone else. In order for those conventions to exist there has to be rules. By definition, a rule implies that there is a wrong and right way to do something. Thus, a writer is in great danger of "loosing" a reader when their writing is chock full of grammatical and spelling errors that force the reader to become something of a translator. Writing is about personal expression, no question, but coloring outside the lines isn't always a good thing.
• United States
14 Dec 08
Unusualsuspect: You're right. Got it in one. :)
@Qaeyious (2362)
• United States
9 Dec 08
Notes and private writing is the only exception I can think of, other than poetry if the act of disregarding the rules are based in genuine expression and not of laziness or ignorance. Or if you are learning English as a second language. When I write drafts in my notebooks in public, I often use phonetic symbols, running short words together, separating "words" at accented syllables, etc. But I would never do that with a public post. I hope books and articles aren't going to change too drastically in the coming decades. (to self prayerfully - "Please, please, PLEASE don't have texting a standard dialect ...)
1 person likes this
• United States
18 Dec 08
Well, if Ben Franklin had had his way we'd all be writing phonetically. Thank the powers that be, that didn't happen. Language does evolve. Grammarians the world over cringed when "respect" began being used as a verb. Now, they're doing it over "disrespect" becoming a verb. However, those changes have always been gradual. This allowed people to adapt them to the old rules. And technology has played a huge part in changing how we write. The ease of computers allows us greater latitude in some ways and more constriction in others. But as my parents used to tell me, rules are rules. They're there for a reason and if you want to break them, you'd better have a good reason. Private communications to yourself are always excepted from this type of discussion. Only you have to figure out what you wrote. But when it's for communication to another person, it's best to follow the conventions. Nobody writes perfectly for themselves. Not unless they are a grammarian.