Russell Kirkpatrick's Journal
I've just finished marking 70 third-year university research proposals, after having spoken to each one of the students individually about their proposal. They confirm - if it needed confirming - that students these days have developed far more impressive oral skills than those of my generation, but it has been at the cost of written language skills.
Before I trot out the Tired Old Argument, let me state my view that it's a good thing English is much broader these days. It's not just literature, grammar and comprehension. Kids get to orate, perform, work with film and experiment with a wide variety of media.
But, oh dear. If only it wasn't at the expense of written skills. How can a third-year university student possibly come up with this?
'This research proposal aim is to study thermal water been use at tourism industry which specific at Rotorua area, through this project it will going to look at what impacts will exist when nature resource been use to tourism. From this research it will star introduce Rotorua background begin.'
All but the best students evince little knowledge of spelling, sentence structure, the purpose of paragraphs, how to structure an argument and the other necessary skills for competent writing. One student has plagiarised five hundred words from a web site without attribution. A number of others have stolen sentence and phrase fragments. Do they think I can't see the contrast between what they wrote and what they copied?
And, of course, we University lecturers are complicit. Funding is structured in such a way that our employment is dependent on student numbers. It is in our own best interest to pass as many students as possible. I have never yet seen a student fail who has completed all the necessary work. We are almost at the point where students purchase their degrees with their fees.
I'm sorely tempted to fail a few this semester. I tried last year, only to have a student sit crying outside my office, announcing she would not leave until I reviewed her grades. Eventually the university ruled in her favour because she needed this pass to finish her degree.
So out she goes. Unemployable. And all the competent students are, in employers' eyes, tarred with her brush.
I don't care if people's English is not perfect. Mine isn't. But at the least I need to be able to understand the writer's meaning. And think of what great prose can do. Oh, for an Edward Gibbon and writing that inspires.
Writing that inspires? After four days' marking I can hardly remember what it is like.
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