Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why do the best Educated usually write so poorly"

I read an article the other day...or was it this morning...that declared that the written word has become a poor excuse for communication.  And that the more educated the writer, the poorer the writing.  Well, in the process of acknowledging this obvious truth I caught myself up short and pondered the subject for a bit.

True, writing has deteriorated a lot.  I have commented verbally and in writing at length of the extinction of the profesional journalist, of someone who could clearly provide facts without judgmental adjectives that direct the reader to an opinion.  But is this disrespect for the writings of the learned REALLY appropriate?

Now, I do remember (now that I am forced to do some time travel) that, among others, I once had a very distinguished and highly acclaimed Professor of Economics who had just finished a text on his view of the field of Economics and how it worked.  He wanted us to use his "in process of being published, but not yet available, text" so we were forced to stand in line and receive each chapter on copy paper (which or course required us to punch holes in each sheet and accumulate them in an extremely large loose-leaf binder).  And what stood out in my memory was that each and every chapter...correction, each and every PAGE was as if written in Greek.  This very intelligent person, I am quite certain, knew his subject well...perhaps even at a genius level...but his ability to combine words into comprehensive sentences in order to pass on his genius was, alas, absent.  One Hundred Per Cent Absent.

Moving on to current articles and studies that have come to my attention, I was forced to conclude that even today many University level articles written by those  at Professorial and above levels were virtually unreadable...I have known sixth graders who could write as well...and perhaps better.  Of course that is not necessarily a vote of confidence.  But then I pondered some more...

The denigration of professorial writing, while correct, is perhaps a tad unfair.  The pressure to publish or be denied tenure and perish has panicked  many an academic into writing that in later years caused them to blush.

I have occasionally wondered how many self-declared literary and academic journals have been started, and continue to be supported, by bands of desperate supplicants for tenure in order to provide themselves a ready source for publication...creating, in the process, sort of a vertically integrated academic industry where they could control their destiny without it being readily apparent.

But...I suspect I am more content not actually knowing that kind of information, as it allows me to grant academics some contented regard...

And I wonder occasionally if we use the right criteria for selecting teachers...at any level.  Do degrees trump teaching skill?  Of course we want both, but which deserves the most weight?  A faculty with many advanced degrees gains a certain respect in the academic community...and that draws students and additional highly-qualified faculty.  But the real talent of teaching helps to best achieve student learning.

I would hope that a school board, or principal, or College or University Dean would chose the most talented teacher, trusting on student success to ultimately guarantee the reputation of the school, and the criteria would include the goal of teaching students HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think, to imbue them with the knowledge that reading and listening are the tools that guarantee the opportunity to pursue happiness, by whatever definition.

One can hope...

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