Why Johnny can’t write …

Faculty colleagues and I often bemoaned that there seems to be a consensus that writing skills among MBA students have been declining.

I’m not talking about flowery prose and precise grammar.

I’m talking about logical argumentation … being able to explain why something is happening and what to do about it.

My hypothesis was that colleges aren’t requiring students to take courses (or demonstrate proficiency) in, say, critical thinking or logic … and that college students today aren’t required to write many papers that hone their thinking and writing skills.


Testing my hypothesis on a middle school math teacher-friend, I got a rude awakening …


Bottom line: The problem is real and starts earlier than college.

The friend’s son is a high school junior taking AP courses in stuff like Literature and World History.

I asked the son how many papers he had to write in those course.

His answer: “No term papers … just a couple of 1-page compositions”


I asked his dad “what’s up with that?”

He gave me a completely rational, but discouraging 3-part explanation:

1) Teachers are “teaching to the  tests” since that’s what their evaluations are based on.

And, even in subjects like Literature – the tests are multiple choice, not writing-based.

Teachers allocate scarce class time to material that will be on the tests … and that doesn’t include writing skills.


2) Plagiarism. No surprise that students are able to copy & paste from the thousands of, say, analyses of Romeo &  Juliet that are a Google stroke away.

Students don’t view plagiarism as a particularly big deal … especially since they know there won’t be any consequences.

If caught, parents will storm the school shouting “false arrest” and administrators will simply turn and run, leaving teachers in the lurch.


3) Grading papers sucks. I can vouch for this one.

Grading papers or Powerpoint pitches is very time-consuming and candid feedback usually upsets students (and parents).

So, why bother?


The story syncs with another conversation I had with the CFO at a highly rated Maryland state university.

When I asked about curriculum, he told me: “Most of the work our students do in their first 2 years is remedial – stuff that they should have gotten in high school but didn’t.”

Not a pretty picture …



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One Response to “Why Johnny can’t write …”

  1. Joe Smith Says:

    so what can the average blue coller parent do to give thier child a leg up from k thru 12 i have one in elementary

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