Students aren’t stupid

Yesterday the Buffalo News published an opinion piece titled “Student illiteracy gives teacher a ‘mind grain’“.

The author, Deborah Kelly Kloepfer, is an adjunct English professor at Buffalo State. Ms. Kelly Kloepfer’s premise is that her freshmen students don’t know how to write:

“Having taught college writing for decades, I have become aware of a disturbing trend obvious in my recent classes of freshmen, who are pathologically attached to their cellphones.”

Already you’re rolling your eyes, but stay with me:

“Another consequence, more relevant to my pedagogical concerns, is a drastic reduction in time spent reading . . . Since my students don’t read much, there are many words they have heard but have never seen in print.”

Kelly Kloepfer uses her students’ writing blunders throughout the rest of the piece:

“A college student writing about how his grandfather died of a ‘hard attract’ or discussing ‘the preverbal straw that broke the camel’s back’ or confessing that he was in ‘a world win of pain’ stops me in my tracks.”

Then she pokes fun at them:

“I’m not judging these students because, I’ve learned, ‘we should not enter fear in other people’s business.’ But then again, we should not ‘sugar code’ the issues either. And, if you’re going to write, I say, ‘you minus well do it right.'”

Kelly Kloepfer is right to point out her students’ alarming lack of writing skills, given it’s a top skill employers are looking for. But there are problems with her argument, problems that reveal her students might be significantly smarter than she thinks:

* This piece was written in a newspaper, and newspaper circulation has been dwindling for decades. Do you know a single millennial who reads a newspaper regularly? If not, what was this piece for? Who was it supposed to reach?

* Young people understand that media stars are being born on Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly, and Youtube every week. Hardly anyone makes money publishing books, but lots of people make money building a personal brand with digital media.

* This morning I went for a walk and listened to a book using Audible. That was unthinkable five years ago, but audiobooks are often a more attractive option to young people than hard copies.

Of course we still need to teach college students how to write, but I’m not sure the best way is to hammer them with an opinion piece in a newspaper.

The best way, as I suspect it has always been, is to meet them where they’re at.

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