The use of proper grammar and correct spelling is often overlooked, and often seen as something that’s only necessary for English majors and copy editors. Why would it be useful for anyone else to know how to use commas in a sentence or the difference between “your” and “you’re”? It can be difficult to understand why something that seems like an arbitrary set of rules is important. However, if the uses of proper grammar and spelling were stressed from an elementary level, college students and prospective employees would not be struggling with how to utilize these rules, nor would they be suffering the consequences of improper usage.
The lack of concern for proper grammar and spelling primarily stems from U.S. public schools’ tendencies to use the “reader-writer workshop” approach. Developed by Lucy Calkins of Columbia University’s Teachers College, it became popular in the 1980s and has been in use ever since. This method primarily focuses on content and ideas, which, of course, are just as important as proper usage. However, it is impossible to effectively communicate any idea without the correct use of language. As a result of this method, young children may be taught to believe that the content of their sentences is the only important part of writing, and that as long as their ideas are interesting, it doesn’t matter if they are properly formulated. Although creative writing is important to teach for numerous reasons, proper grammar must accompany it. According to John Maguire of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, “… students who have been poorly trained, thanks to rigid education-school theories like Calkin’s method, move through the system, graduate not knowing a sentence from a fragment, and go to college. There they are stuck.” It is not a college professor’s job to teach proper grammar to students who should already possess a strong background. Since this is rarely properly reinforced in college, graduates enter the workforce with weak written communication skills that are too far gone to correct.
Employers do not accept excuses when it comes to weak communication skills — improper grammar and spelling can certainly give the impression that one is uneducated or unprofessional. According to the 2017 Corporate Recruiters Survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which surveyed 959 employers from more than 628 companies around the world, four out of five skills ranked as the most important by employers involved communications. Written communication was highlighted as an important subset of this category. According to the survey, written communication is not only necessary in fields within the humanities — it was ranked as one of the top-10 most important skills in fields such as health care, technology, government, consulting and finance. Even something as simple as sending an email, which is commonplace in almost any field, requires written communication skills. Without proper grammar and spelling, effective written communication is impossible to achieve. Employers across various fields value and require these skills, which makes it imperative to stress their importance to students starting from a young age. Companies and hiring managers are not interested in recruiting a candidate who will come off to clients or patrons as uneducated or unprofessional.
The lack of focus on teaching proper grammar and spelling in U.S. public schools is creating generations of incompetent writers. While acknowledging that there are various dialects of the English language that each have their own set of rules, we must attempt to create a method of teaching Standard American English. What does it say about our elementary education system when individuals with degrees from prestigious programs do not have the background to formulate proper sentences? Even the most brilliant ideas will not be taken seriously if they are not articulated properly. As William Zinsser said, “Bad writing makes bright people look dumb” — and it could even cost someone a career. We cannot continue to create generations of people who are unable to formulate sentences correctly.
Emily Kaufman is a junior majoring in English.