Ways that High School Fails to Prepare Students for College

I’ve been a writing tutor at a community college for thirteen years, and I can say with certainty that high schools have failed to teach students writing. 

Just about every college in the U.S., including four-year colleges, offers developmental writing classes and employs writing tutors to bring college freshmen up to speed.

Some colleges, including the one I work at, have a series of developmental classes.  Students take a test to proficiency into their appropriate level.  The trouble with the test is that it mainly gauges a student’s knowledge of grammar and spelling.  When students get into a higher-level English class because they did well on the test, it often turns out that they can’t produce a coherent paragraph.

This isn’t the students’ fault; it’s the fault of the high schools for not teaching writing.  It would be best if students would begin to write as soon as they have enough command of the English language, say in the fifth or sixth grade.  Writing is something that you learn by doing. 

But they should at least be doing a lot of writing by the time they’re high school freshmen.  Kids like stories, and they have a natural feel for a beginning, middle, and end.  By writing stories they learn to organize and develop ideas.  Kids also know what’s relevant to them.  By writing about subjects that interest them and their classmates, they learn to write to an audience.  And by writing about issues that affect their lives, say should the driving age be raised to eighteen, they start to develop critical thinking ability.  These are all skills they could bring to their college papers later on. 

By their third year of high school, students should be able to select a thesis, do research, form their research into organized points, develop those points, and come to well-thought-out conclusions.  But it doesn’t happen, either because they’re not required to write at all, or because they haven’t had enough instruction and practice.  High school students can’t suddenly and magically develop into proficient writers when they’re juniors.  They need continual opportunities to write throughout their high school years.  

Schools spend a great deal of time teaching grammar, usage, and spelling, but for what purpose?  These are the tools that are meant to be used in writing.  There’s no point to teaching these skills if they aren’t used in writing.  It’s like learning to use a hammer and saw and then never building anything.

Other subjects are important, but good writing is essential because that’s how we communicate knowledge and ideas.  And without communication, our fund of knowledge and ideas isn’t much use.  High schools need to recognize this and add a lot more writing to the curriculum.