In coming years, students in Pennsylvania may be seeing tougher standards that will combat a declining quality in academic language use. According to an Associated Press release, press secretary Timothy Eller of the Pennsylvania Department of Education said, “The department [of education] is preparing to release new standards.” Eller emphasized that these standards will apply to all students in Pennsylvania, not just college-bound students.
At Elizabethtown College, professor of English Dr. David Downing has noticed a downward trend in the quality of students’ work since he came to the College in 1994. “Back then, I very seldom had to review basic grammar and mechanics for my students. But now I do so on a regular basis, especially in my first-year courses.”
However, visiting professor of English Jesse Waters said, “[The writing] is just as mediocre as it was when I started.” Waters continued to state that he’s noticed that students are not able to properly cite sources for academic work. He commented, “Furthermore, I don’t think they … understand why [citations] are significant.”
Waters and Downing do agree, however, that the cause for the weaknesses in student writing could be linked to technology, especially the Internet.
Downing referenced the 2010 Wall Street Journal article “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” when he said that he thinks the article argues in a persuasive manner “that people who engage in frequent ‘screen-based’ learning—may have improved visual-spatial skills. But they are easily distracted and have trouble with higher-order cognitive tasks.”
Waters said, “I think it’s the idea that because the information is so accessible – it’s overly accessible, [so] students think they don’t have to specialize in terms of delineating where information has come from.” He thinks that the overly-accessible information is the effect of Internet-based sources. However, Waters later specified that he was “not blaming the ‘Net,’” and that he was “not saying that—because of the Internet, research is terrible.”
The problem of the English language in schools could be the effect of texting and instant messaging language, according to various sources. Jennifer 8. Lee’s New York Times article “I Think, Therefore IM,” explained that, “As more and more teenagers socialize online, middle school and high school teachers … are increasingly seeing a breezy form of Internet English jump from e-mail into schoolwork.”
Lee’s article quotes Eve Brecker, a high school student from Montclair, N.J., who has used texting abbreviations in serious schoolwork. Brecker explained, “I just wanted to finish before my time was up. I was writing fast and carelessly. I spelled ‘you,’ ‘u.’” The article continued to cite an example of an Alvernia University professor from Reading, Pa., who saw 10th-grade students using emoticons in their academic writing.
An edutopia.org poll of 2,945 educators, entitled “Does text messaging harm students’ writing skills?”, seems to support the opinion of those who believe that text messaging is leaking into academic writing. Of those who voted, 54 percent believed that students are using the writing habits they acquire from texting in their schoolwork.
Downing, when asked if he saw the changes as having a negative or positive effect on the language, said: “I’m less worried about the language than about the people who use it. The English language is a toolkit with almost infinite capacities for communication. But I’m worried that too many speakers and writers know less and less about the tools available to them. They are like carpenters who try to tackle every job with nothing more than a hammer and hacksaw.”
Waters believes that there is no way to categorize changes in the language as “good or bad,” but he offered the optimistic view that “at least students are engaging in language use.” Whereas, before texting and the Internet, students would not be using or manipulating language outside of the classroom.
As for the reforms to the school system in Pennsylvania that may help to reverse the effects of the technology-inspired decline in English usage, no specific details of the mentioned standards have come from Eller, or his department. Representatives of the Department of Education have been absent for response. Even with an announcement from Eller, it will take time to see if the Department of Education’s planned reform processes take as drastic a hit on texting lingo as many educators would like to see.