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Writing skills help learning —
and earning

Burlington Free Press

By Geoffrey Gevalt
Young Writers Project
October 3, 2006

The Young Writers Project and Burlington (VT) The Free Press publish this weekly feature for several reasons:

  • To draw attention to the importance of writing;
  • To assist in the teaching of writing;
  • To showcase the best writing by our students.

Why bother? Simple: Our students need help; as a state and a nation, we are not doing a good job of teaching our children how to write well.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, only 25 percent of students who graduate from high school can write at a proficient level.

Put another way: 75 percent of our high school graduates do not have sufficient writing skills “to clarify and enhance their central idea” and do not have sufficient grasp of spelling, grammar and punctuation to communicate properly.

Think about that.

In the state of Vermont, recent tests show we lag behind the rest of the nation: Looking at the overall average of all students in the state, nearly half are partially or substantially below proficient in their writing skills. Ouch.

The College Board has financed a study by The National Commission on Writing which became so alarmed by what it found it declared the situation “a national crisis.” Schools, the commission wrote, are neglecting the teaching of writing.

The commission found, not surprisingly, that writing is vital for success in school and later in the workplace. In a separate survey, the commission found that businesses say good writing skills are the keys to getting hired or promoted.

Writing helps learning. Writing helps expression, innovation and change; it helps foster understanding between people and cultures. Writing also helps people find jobs, get promotions and succeed.

“American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom,” the Commission wrote.

Yet improving writing is low on people’s radar, the Commission said; political leaders, educators, school administrators, parents and the media need to do more.

The College Board has done its part to bring attention to the importance of writing with its SAT essay exam which began last year.

Many fine teachers, meanwhile, have been putting in their time — with some success — in helping their students.

But more needs to be done.

And that’s where we come in. We believe in writing. We believe in newspapers. Every day newspapers use words — and photos — to provide depth, context and humanity to the news and that helps readers understand the problems of our communities and the joys and successes of our citizens.

We believe the Young Writers Project can help our young citizens learn to write better. They can follow ideas presented by professional writers and top teachers; publish their best work or read others’; express themselves visually; or go to www.youngwritersproject.org and do all sorts of writing.

We also hope this project opens a window to what young people are thinking and saying, what they worry about, what they do to find joy and success.

So look for the Young Writers Project each Tuesday in this space. Teachers tell us the pages are extremely helpful. Students tell us it’s a thrill to be published.

Readers tell us the writing is inspiring and enlightening. We hope you will sit up, take notice and write us — or, better yet, the students — and tell us what you think.

Contact Jeff Rubin for more information about punctuation
(510) 724-9507