Why American Students Can’t Write

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Robert Pondiscio explains why American students can’t write:

“When our students resist writing, it is usually because writing has been treated as little more than a place to expose all they do not know about spelling, penmanship and grammar,” observes Lucy Calkins, probably the workshop model’s premier guru. She is almost certainly correct.

This leaves exactly two options: The first is to de-emphasize spelling and grammar. The other is to teach spelling and grammar. But at too many schools, it’s more important for a child to unburden her 10-year-old soul writing personal essays about the day she went to the hospital, dropped an ice cream cone on a sidewalk, or shopped for new sneakers. It’s more important to write a “personal response” to literature than engage with the content. This is supposed to be “authentic” writing. There is nothing inherently inauthentic about research papers and English essays.

Earlier this year, David Coleman, the principal architect of the widely adopted Common Core Standards, infamously told a group of educators, “As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” His bluntness made me wince, but his impulse is correct. We have overvalued personal expression. The unlived life is not worth examining. The pendulum has swung too far.


  1. Spandrell says:

    Don’t we have enough writers already?

    People can’t write because people can’t write. Language ability is normally distributed.

  2. Isegoria says:

    There are better and worse ways to teach writing. We should try to use the better ways.

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