I am convinced, after years of gnawing over the problem of 'declining
writing abilities," that the perception of such a decline rests with about
a thousand variables OTHER than instruction or instructional methods. The
dum dum general population assumes that "good teaching = good writing, bad
teaching = bad writing, and ipso fatso, bad writing = bad teaching,"
cramming massive and complex cultural forces into a simple-minded formula
that puts the blame on a phantom conspiracy of chicken-hearted,
no-discipline, politically correct, ex-hippie, touchie-feelie, 'I teach the
whole person' lousy teachers and their social engineering bias and New Age
In fact, as anybdy who looks into the matter discovers pretty quickly, what
"good" or "bad" writing is, culturally and functionally speaking, has
always been a messy debate topic, and so everybody from Thucydides on down
has grumbled about how crummy the current generation writes in comparison
to the eternal golden age of (guess what?) when the grumbler was in school
and infatuated by the verbal puissance of teachers and authors (gathered
just when the grumbler was at the dawn of verbal awakening, the eternal and
generationally moveable 'golden age' of knowledge).
I think there's a lot of terrible writing instruction going on out there,
but there has always been a lot of terrible writing instruction. The
specious hit on new methods just because they're new and hence a
cause/product of declining capabilities is just some more generational
wheezing, the "gee, in my day we used to have to....." sort of thing that
seems hard-wired in the human psyche.
This is not to say we can use this point as a reason for blaming Fate for
our personally weak instructional practices and doing nothing. There are
lots of ways to do a better job teaching writing, but they have nothing to
do, good or bad, with presumed 'tried and true' methods or rhetorically
loaded nostalgia for the good old days when everybody in school was
presumably deathly enamoured of good literature.
We must make our argument for this method or that method on current
experience and current understanding of cultural and individual psychology.
Proclaimed 'crises' in this or that, especially in education, are hauled
out to satisfy deep-seated attitudes that probably relate more to getting a
sled taken away from you as a child than to anything else.
In short, I agree with Ken.