Too many American students struggle to put together a coherent sentence, much less prose. The 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) showed that only one quarter of the nation's fourth, eighth and twelfth graders could write at a "proficient" level, and only one percent were "advanced." This shouldn't be a surprise. For years proper spelling and grammar almost totally have been ignored in schools, removed out of fear that enforcing them might be bad for children's self-esteem and creativity.
"The Neglected 'R'," a new report from the College Board's National Commission on Writing, repeats what businesses and colleges have long known: the writing instruction our children are receiving just isn't cutting it. To its credit, the report proclaims that something must be done about this mess. Unfortunately, most of what it calls for won't fix the problem, especially more technology and a new National Conference on Writing.
Teaching good writing does not require cutting edge technology: witness the prose of quill wielders like the Declaration of Independence author, Thomas Jefferson or Moby Dick scribe, Herman Melville. Or, look at the more recent Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. All were neither composed on Microsoft Word nor presented in the fancy colors and animated bullets of PowerPoint. Even more needless to say, none of these feats of composition were made possible by the work of a federal commission.