With the rise of Covid-19 cases across the nation and here in Colorado, recently, the Poudre School District wrote parents advising that if trends continue, they might have to return to remote learning. Most agree that students do best emotionally and socially when classes are held in school, but we’ve never been through a public health crisis like this, and of course, we must exercise caution.
While few parents have been trained in teaching math or science, we hope that remote learning will suffice. But there is one area in which most parents can assist their children to excel — and no matter what college or career they choose in the coming years, this one area of learning can give their children the competitive edge — English language skills.
I’m not referring to creative writing but the ability to express complex ideas in straightforward competent writing — the kind that was stressed generations ago, well before the telephone and all the technologies that followed.
If you’ve been lucky enough to befriend a much older relative or neighbor, you may be aware that in their generation, letter writing was a skill most young people were well versed in — after all, it was all they had to communicate with friends. A lively correspondence with good friends and loved ones was the norm. We are fortunate to have entire books dedicated to lengthy correspondences such as between Abigail and John Adams and Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson — what a window into their lives, their concerns, and their longings.
But toward the end of the 19th century, new technology came on the scene — the telephone! And while it took a few decades to become more commonplace, it began to show up first in the corner drug store where young people would set times to be there to receive a call from their friend. As phones began to become more common in households, gradually, penmanship and the written word seemed unimportant — after all, so much could be said in seconds and misunderstandings clarified in a matter of minutes. Little by little, building vocabulary and teaching nonfiction writing was given less time in the classroom.
And then, in the early 1980s, email sprung on the scene, at first, mostly in the workplace. It began to show evidence of otherwise intelligent senior management who couldn’t write a coherent sentence. Staff was left shaking their heads, trying to figure out what the boss wanted, so courses sprang up to assist with business writing.
And then texting came along whereby correct spellings and full sentences were thrown aside. Emoticons replaced expression. Skilled writing and literacy declined even further. In recent decades each generation has had at their command an ever-smaller vocabulary to communicate their creative ideas and their fondest desires. No wonder the suicide rate continues to escalate among young adults — lacking the tools to express themselves, they don’t even have the vocabulary to get to know who they are and what it is they want out of life as everything begins with the words we use to explain things to ourselves.
In the future, your child will need to write college essays, effective cover letters, and compelling follow-up letters. And if they turn out to be an inventor, they will have to accurately describe their idea to an industrial designer or venture capitalist who can help bring their idea to market.
All this is a long lead-in to the opportunity to help your children expand their vocabulary, learn to write a sentence that accurately describes their ideas, and read books (which helps expand their vocabulary without their even knowing it.)
Perhaps several months from now, your children will be back in their more usual routine, and you won’t have as much access to their time. But now, with this extra time you have with them at home, you can help them build their English language skills, and you will have enhanced not just their education but their entire future.
Plenty of books are out there to help you and your family with this endeavor. One book we recently mentioned is PROMPTS FOR YOUNG WRITERS by the Colorado Authors League (CAL). Available as a free ebook or PDF download in both English and Spanish for parents and teachers looking for fun and practical writing exercises from grade 1 through high school. R. Gary Raham is a contributor. Access the book at www.coloradoauthors.org/
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