The roses? The violets? The nasturtiums? The chive blossoms? All the tasty writing that once garnished the mental meals on the menu of fiction?
When I would go to check my print-on-demand account, I used to stop by the “community” to take a peek at the previews put up by aspiring writers who intended to publish with the same printer. After 18 months, I gave up: within the previews I never found even one sentence that qualified as a snack.
Writing quality has deteriorated badly, and I’m convinced the reason can be found in “education reform,” starting when desks were unbolted from classroom floors. Children who had done poorly on their homework, memorization and recitation grew up to reinvent themselves as “educationalists,” who convinced government officials to keep dumbing-down the Three Rs.
Anybody who doubts this should take a long, hard look at the McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers: Primer through the Sixth. These books constituted much of the reading and writing instruction back when desks were still bolted down: middle-class adults had graduated from “grammar” school, the upper middle-class graduated from “high” school, and the upper class were university graduates.
I earned a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration. When I was in graduate school, I had to participate in group projects with students who would have had difficulty processing the McGuffey Readers,* and their writing skills ranged from atrocious to nonexistent. All university graduates, mind you.
Education reform also produced several generations of “professional” agents and editors who understood so little about what makes good writing good that they were easily bamboozled by early 20th-century “avant-garde” scribblers, whose grasp of punctuation and parts of speech was shaky, but by virtue of their incoherence, managed to pass off their prose as “profound,” and became enshrined as epitomes of writing excellence.
So, now that publishing has been blown wide open, we have agents and editors who won’t touch writing that employs adjectives, adverbs and semicolons, with a barge pole; and writers to whom “descriptive writing” means monosyllabic grunts liberally larded with obscenities, “character development” means characters who have passed pubertal development, and “plot” means seeing how many times they can make their characters “say it” and “do it.”
I’m famished for a banquet of fresh, florid, well-turned phrases, but all they’re serving is rusty iceberg lettuce house salad. Picked by language Luddites, every one.
* McGuffey has been reprinted. I own a set. (Not surprising? I didn’t think so.)
(Parts of this rant have appeared in comments elsewhere in the blogosphere.)
5 responses to “Where Have All The Posies Gone?”
Hi Christine, I agree with much of what you say, but I do think you’re generalising quite a lot here. I wouldn’t want education to go back to the days when desks were bolted down. I think education has gone through a huge experimental phase and is slowly but surely returning to stricter standards. I have 2 sons in national school at the moment. It is a very positive experience where ability and good behaviour is recognised and rewarded. Punishment is seldom required. And my sons know far more than I did at their age. My oldest is about to start senior school. I saw evidence in the display of project work of discussions I probably wouldn’t be able to hold my own in now lol! Nowhere did I see sloppy writing. However it does annoy me when I see him use text speak on fb but one shouldnt assume from this that they dont know and understand grammar punctuation etc. Its simply not true.
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You make very good points, Ali, although we both may have some small disconnects because of our being on opposite sides of the pond. I raised my children in a half-dozen US states, and public education steadily deteriorated every time we moved house. I wound up homeschooling my three younger ones from the ages of 6, 8 and 10 through secondary school graduation. My experiences at university span the same states.
I believe the huge experimental phase in education reform has resulted in several “lost” generations, as far as writing quality is concerned. For a while, I was too busy to read much fiction, so it was my mother, whose vast personal library I cut my teeth on, and who for many years has depended on audiobooks from the library for the blind, who first brought my attention to the problem.
Recently I ran across a new author who has a great writing voice, but when I bought that person’s professionally published book, I was dismayed to find more than a dozen spell-checker-variety errors marring fewer than 200 pages of prose. As an Indie, I know how difficult it is to root out errors of all varieties in my own work, but by signing with a publisher, this author had, in effect, paid for help from other sets of eyes, after all the writer could do. I believe that we both were swindled.
So, I speak out of deep frustration, because at my age, I’m afraid I don’t have another generation left, to wait for decent reading material to swan back into circulation. Can you recommend any authors in general or historical fiction for me to try?
Thanks so much for engaging in this discussion!
Wow homeschooling is such a big commitment! I admire you greatly for that!
Yes, there have inevitably been victims in this educational experimenting, and there certainly are those who don’t care to write using correct grammar, spelling etc. Of course it matters, but only while we care. If no one cares, then the language will continue to evolve in a way which we might consider out of control. As you know, I love aĺl things past, including the past behind the language we speak and write today. You have to know how to use it correctly before you can break the rules. But you can’t stop this evolution no matter how much you dislike it. And yes, I would also feel cheated if a published book was full of stupid errors…that should not happen, Indi or trad published.
As for recommendations, I can only tell you what I have enjoyed in the past. If you like historical works and you love language, anything by Rosemary Sutcliffe is a must. Also, I loved Zimmer-Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. I am no expert, but I loved these authors and their use of language. I’ll have a think and see what else I can come up with…
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Bad grammar and spelling is something there is no excuse for. But as for writing, I guess everyone writes differently. I actually quite like adverbs in writing 😀 They get the point across quickly, though I don’t use them much in my writing. I guess that rule has been hammered into me too much!
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You’re right, about style being one thing, but defects being another. And I couldn’t agree more, about the adverbs! 🙂 Words of all varieties are close friends of mine, and I grieve to see them snubbed or abused.
Thanks for joining in!