The "writing revolution" may be on its way. But for some parents, it's not coming fast enough.
As a parent, I read Peg Tyre's article "The Writing Revolution" with particular interest. My husband and I moved to an affluent community in Lower Fairfield County, Connecticut, in part because we heard it had a strong public school system. However, we've been disappointed by the low level of writing instruction delivered there. We believe it leaves children unprepared for the kinds of writing required in today's office environment.
I have an MBA and was a turnaround corporate and real estate banker for over 23 years. My husband also has an MBA and is a senior-level manager in the financial services industry. What we've both seen, in the course of our careers, is that good writing matters. While the weak writers may get hired -- job interviews rarely require a writing sample -- once the candidates get the job, they don't tend to go far. Soon after they start work, they are asked to prepare a presentation or simply send an email. Then, the trouble begins.
Writing longer pieces -- presentations, for example -- only confirms the negative impression weak writers make in the workplace. While they might be very intelligent, their inability to clearly and concisely advocate their position on paper completely undermines their reputation. As a result, others become reluctant to have them on their team. Even individuals in verbally focused careers such as sales need to write pitches and send frequent follow-up correspondence.
When employers discover that an employee is a weak writer, they often feel that their hands are tied. From a training perspective, writing is not a skill that one can pick up quickly on the job. It needs to be progressively learned and perfected over the course of many years.
When my husband and I were children in the public education system, we routinely wrote five to six paragraph essays across several subjects. We also learned proper handwriting, a skill that's far too underrated today. (One cannot use the computer to fill out a worksheet or critique a colleague's hard-copy document.) In addition, we rarely took multiple choice tests, instead tackling open-ended questions that required at least full-sentence answers. None of this is the case in many schools today. What's particularly frustrating to us is seeing these shortcomings in a school district like ours, one that has far fewer obstacles than a lower-income school like New Dorp.
For now, my husband and I have moved our 8th grade son to a private school where we hope he will be taught to write well. Our younger daughter remains in our local public school for now, but if the level of writing instruction doesn't improve, she'll soon be leaving as well. We still have high hopes for public education. Given today's competitive workplace, we simply can't allow our children to graduate without proper writing skills.
The story of New Dorp is encouraging, and perhaps a broader change is on the way. But, for our own children, time is of the essence. When we look at what's at stake in their future, we simply can't afford to wait.