I teach College Freshman Composition, also known as English 111, at Fayetteville Technical Community College. It is the course that is required for most degrees, and is important instruction for students who need to learn to write for college. Each semester I am dismayed by the fact that many, if not most of my students are completely unprepared to write a cohesive unified essay in the third person. And although we at FTCC do teach individuals from all over the United States, many of my students have graduated from schools here in Cumberland County. It is appalling to know that an incoming freshman who has graduated from one of our high schools and who has taken and passed all required English courses, is still not prepared to write in the approved manner. Why is this?
    {mosimage}The North Carolina Standard Course of Study may shoulder part of the blame. An analysis of this document shows that it is reading and not writing that is emphasized in the competency goals. There are six such goals listed for high school students, and they read about American, British and World Literature. They analyze literature, identify story elements, and respond to issues in literature — according to this course of study — but it is not until “Competency Goal 6” is reached in all four years, that conventions of writing are even addressed. This must change.
    The reluctance of high school teachers to read and respond to student writing may be another part of the problem. I understand this because it is not easy to slog through the muck and muddle of student writing. It takes time to read two and three page essays — time that teachers are not compensated for by the way. However, if students write and are not corrected, what is the point of their writing? Is it just to say that they did indeed write? High school is the time to correct sentence fragments, run-on sentences and yes, improve spelling and vocabulary. When they get to college, students should not still be making these mistakes. As a college instructor, I should not have to teach these basic skills — but each year, I spend time doing this. I take home stacks of essays to grade, and sometimes it seems as if I am writing more than the student did. If high school English teachers are not also taking time to read and correct papers, it is no wonder that the level of writing skill is deficient. This too needs change.
    It almost goes without saying that television and gaming have had a deleterious effect on most students’ ability to write clearly and concisely. Reading good books and magazines does help students to write better by exposing them to a variety of writing styles. When did reading become a dreaded chore?
    Lastly, students must claim their share of responsibility. It is just too easy to go to the Internet and Google the topic the teacher may have assigned, and then copy and paste. Voila! Complete essay with little or no effort. And all the student had to do was access the Internet. Where are the parents while this theft of intellectual property is occurring?  Where is the alert teacher who recognizes that the student who “wrote” this, was not capable of producing such sophisticated writing, and called the student on it?
    School will begin very shortly. I implore all teachers — not just English teachers — to take time and have students write. Look for badly structured sentences and ask the student to correct them. Find ways to expand vocabulary and improve spelling. Take home papers and grade them. The NC Standard Course of Study does allow for the teaching of writing. Teachers, principals and the state of North Carolina just need to make it, rather than reading literature, a priority.
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