I am a member of a university writing committee charged to investigate the state of writing at Drexel and what we can do to improve student writing. One member of the committee send around a link to Natalie Wexler’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post: Why Americans Can’t Write. I sent to our committee the following response:
As I note in this post (and as did the Zeff article we cited in our report), this kind of uninformed opinion, while popular, is nothing new (I’m inclined to link it to Trump’s rants about what’s wrong with America–and I know how to fix it; just trust me). It seems slightly naive to look for educated opinions on a subject from someone who has zero credentials in the field. Natalie Wexler has been a volunteer tutor in DC schools. This does not make her an expert in the field of writing. I would hate to have a physicist take my opinion (although I happen to like physics) on what should be taught in physics classes and how it should be taught. As scholars who presumably respect research and scholarship, we should perhaps respect people who actually have expertise in a particular field.
As did Zeff, I historicized this common complaint about students writing. If anyone has the time, look on the right side of my blog for examples of how “kids can’t write” (Student essays: our first year at Drexel).
Basically, Wexler is full of bad advice, much of it derived from David Coleman’s tunnel vision and his influence on Common Core. Coleman is one more person who knows next to nothing about teaching writing; yet he is in charge of the Common Core standards–of writing, in particular. He, like Wexler, has a vested interest. See Diane Ravitch (who finally started investigating rather then repeating the what’s-wrong-with-the-
I’m just pointing out: if we want to know something about a particular field, we should probably not rely on op-eds written by people who know next to nothing about that field, no matter how much they say what we want them to say.