Author: Michael O'Keefe

Refighting the Usage Wars

On November 21, two educators published an article that lamented the declining quality of written work produced by American adolescents. Early in the piece, Temple University professors Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Laurence Steinberg cite a 2011 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics that yielded this disturbing claim: “Only one in four [high school seniors] can construct an essay that is coherent and well structured, with ideas presented clearly and logically.” To bolster their case, Hirsch-Pasek and Steinberg present anecdotal evidence from other university professors privy to what this deficit looks like (literally on paper) at the next level. One, from “a high-ranking state university,” resorted to altering “her syllabus to take two full days to review the idea of a topic sentence.” Illustrating the ubiquity of this trend, another professor, this time from “a highly ranked private college, wrote in a recent Facebook post that he took time out of class to explain how to write, noting that students had no idea what they didn’t know.” Does this sound alarmist? Well, it shouldn’t, …