Important Beyond the Words

Despite all the “emphasis” on improving education and upon assessment testing in primary and secondary schools, education is anything but improving in the United States… and there’s a very good reason why.  Politicians, educators, and everyday parents have forgotten one of the most special attributes that makes us human and that lies behind our success as a species – language, in particular, written language.

An ever-increasing percentage of younger Americans, well over a majority of those under twenty, cannot write a coherent paragraph, nor can they synthesize complex written information, either verbally or in writing, despite all the testing, all the supposed emphasis on “education.”  So far, this has not proved to be an obvious detriment to U.S. science, business, and culture, but that is because society, any society, has always been controlled by a minority.  The past strength of U.S. society has been that it allowed a far greater percentage of “have-nots” to rise into that minority, and that rise was enabled by an educational system that emphasized reading, writing, and arithmetic – the three “Rs.”   While mastery of more than those three basics is necessary for success in a higher-technology society, ignoring absolute mastery in those subjects for the sake of knowledge in others is a formula for societal collapse, because those who can succeed will be limited to those whose parents can obtain an education for their children that does require mastery of those fundamental basics, particularly of writing.  And because in each generation, there are those who will not or cannot truly master such basics, either through lack of ability or lack of dedication, the number of those able to control society will become ever more limited and a greater and greater percentage of society’s assets will become controlled by fewer and fewer, who, as their numbers dwindle, find their abilities also diminish.  In time, if such a trend is not changed, social unrest builds and usually results in revolution.  We’re already seeing this in the United States, particularly in dramatically increased income inequality, but everyone seems to focus on the symptoms rather than the cause.

Why writing, you might ask.  Is that just because I’m a writer, and I think that mastery of my specialty is paramount, just as those in other occupations might feel the same about their area of expertise?  No… it’s because writing is the very foundation upon which complex technological societies rest.

The most important aspect of written language is not that it records what has been spoken, or what has occurred, or that it documents how to build devices, but that it requires a logical construct to be intelligible, let alone useful. Good writing requires logic, both in structuring a sentence, a paragraph, or a book.  It requires the ability to synthesize and to create from other information.  In essence, mastering writing requires organizing one’s thoughts and mind.  All the scattered facts and bits of information required by short-answer educational testing are useless unless they can be understood as part of a coherent whole.  That is why, always, the best educational institutions required long essay tests, usually under pressure.  In effect, such tests both develop and measure the ability to think.

Yet the societal response to the lack of writing, and thus thinking, ability has been to institute “remedial” writing courses at the college entry level.  This is worse than useless, and a waste of time and resources.  Basic linguistics and writing ability, as I have noted before, are determined roughly by puberty.  If someone cannot write and organize his or her thoughts by then, effectively they will always be limited.  If we as a society want to reverse the trend of social and economic polarization, as well as improve the abilities of the younger generations, effective writing skills have to be developed on the primary and early secondary school levels.  Later than that is just too late.  Just as you can’t learn to be a concert violinist or pianist beginning at age eighteen, or a professional athlete, the same is true for developing writing and logic skills.

And because, in a very real sense, a civilization is its written language, our inability to address this issue effectively may assure the fall of our culture.

9 thoughts on “Important Beyond the Words”

  1. Thanks for a awesome post and interesting comments. I found this post while surfing for some lyric updates. Thanks for sharing this article.

  2. The basic problem with U.S. public education is that we have forgotten or never defined just what the objectives much less the goals of k-12 education are. Almost no one knows that the original intent was to create a population who could read and reason enough to make informed decisions when electing our governors. That goal has been abandoned in favor of two mutually exclusive goals: malleable consumers and skilled workers for undefined industry.
    After 20 years of asking education undergraduates, professors, business people and people at social gatherings what should be the product of education – and getting blank stares in response I have come up with the following criteria:
    A person is educated if they can:
    • Balance a bank account
    • Explain and apply percentages and margins
    • Read a common contract and write an explanation of what it entails and requires
    • Write a letter of introduction that could be used in applying for a job
    • Describe and explain the scientific method of research
    • Explain, with words and diagrams the water cycle.
    That’s it. If you can do the above, no matter at what age, you are officially educated.
    If you want to acquire more knowledge or skills, perhaps those industries that need employees with such attributes can provide opportunities for would-be employees.
    J.J. Hayden
    Covington GA

  3. Guy says:

    I am the parent of two self avowed “geeks” who have done very well in the public school system, no thanks however to said public school system, it was because they were partially home schooled and because we are very involved in their education. I can’t help but feel that the love of reading which we fostered from a very early age in our children, by both reading to them and having them frequently see us enjoy reading, is largely responsible for their success. Lesson: Read to your kids, be an involved parent and don’t rely solely on the schools to educate them!

  4. limewire says:

    lmao sweet stuff man.

  5. hockey fan says:

    You know you’re right. I’m taking third semester calculus and the farther I’ve gotten into math the more it’s been about ideas and logic, than pure calculation. However, there are other problems as well. Such as schools holding and discouraging the brightest students back and trying to force slower or uninterested students to meet a level above their abilities. Also the social situation among students in schools are far from ideal for learning. Students have far too much power over each others lives and school officials don’t do enough to keep it in check.

  6. Thank you ever so for you blog article.Thanks Again. Really Great.

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  8. I enjoyed reading your interesting yet very informative insights. I am looking forward to reading more of your most recent articles and blogs.

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