We who write today carry a responsibility during our time to maintain a level of writing quality as it was passed on to us by those who came before. When our time is done, we will pass that task along to the next generation of writers.
A recent incident gave me serious concern about the writers who will follow us.
I drive a school bus as a part time job. Writing is a solitary profession and this job gets me out of the house every day for a couple hours and provides interaction with other members of the human race. One day, several students reported to me that other students in the back of the bus were using profane language. Sure enough, I checked the tape and found it. Our buses have cameras on board with audio recording capability. Two boys back in the last row used language unsuitable in mixed company anywhere, let alone in a group of children.
I wrote an Incident Report, copies of which go to the school principal and to the parents of the students involved. I don’t know what the parents did to their kids, but the principal suspended them for a few days.
The principal also required the boys to write a personal letter of apology to me. Here’s an excerpt from one of those letters exactly as it was written:
“Dear mr. earl I now what I did was wrong I have taken ownership for what I did I will start being a leader and a better kid being that this is my first offince. . .”
Both letters were in printed letters, not cursive, and the penmanship was so bad, they were difficult to read. They obviously knew little about capitalization, punctuation or spelling.
You might think these letters were from second or third graders. No, these boys were in eighth grade and would move up to high school in a few short months.
Their lack of writing skill concerned me as much if not more than the offensive language they used. It bothered me that young people were not being schooled in the craft of communication via the written word.
Instead, they become expert in texting and posting on social venues such as Facebook. Their language is much simpler than ours. Instead of asking, “How are you?” they type “? R U.” Instead of asking, “How are you doing,” it’s “Sup dude.”
Maybe there will be no need for writing skills in future generations. Maybe the ability to write personal letters in legible script will not be necessary in a technically advanced age. Perhaps correct word usage, spelling and punctuation will be relegated to the old days.
But who will write books? Who will create printed material for reading and learning use?
I must admit there are a small number of exceptions on my bus. Occasionally, I’ll see a student carrying a book and spending the travel time reading. Sadly, a very small number.
This situation has bothered me since the day of the incident. A few days ago, however, I received a newsletter from the superintendent of the school board in which he discussed plans for the coming year. Part of it said:
“This year’s theme is Once Upon a Dragon. ..with year-long emphasis on reading, literacy and storytelling. I think you’ll agree that reading is a cornerstone for success across all courses, grade levels and subjects. While it certainly isn’t our only focus, we do plan to emphasize reading during the 2012-2013 school year. We want our students to read for fun and use their imaginations. We want them to hear tales told by expert storytellers, participate in their own creative writing activities and integrate new technologies into their love for reading.
“Many of our campuses already have ongoing programs to promote reading, but you’ll be hearing more about opportunities to incorporate a love for reading into your everyday lesson planning, how to encourage parents to read with their children and how some of our Dragons are already published writers!”
I was greatly encouraged and uplifted to read this. It indicates that school administrators are becoming as concerned as I am about the reading and writing skills of students.
Along those lines, I had a personal experience at one of the schools on my route. I was invited to speak to a class about writing. Sounds easy, but the class happened to be Kindergarten. How do you talk to a room full of five-year-olds about writing? You’re invited to read “My Kindergarten Challenge” at http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com
In spite of the plan outlined for my school district, I’m still concerned as far as where the next generation of writers will come from. Maybe – just maybe, however - there is some hope.