Colonic indignation

February 5, 1999

Teaching English literature to first-year undergraduates has been far more enlightening for me than for my students.

Young people, slowly emerging from the security blanket of A levels, are claiming they have never been told not to abbreviate words in essays, have never knowingly met an infinitive and certainly did not know they were splitting them. One literature student who expressed a desire to improve writing skills replied when told to read and write lots: "I don't really read much."

It is only six years since I sat A levels, but I cannot believe the quality of grammar being presented. The best has come from overseas students.

This breakdown in communication skills is not only apparent in the standard of writing, however. Students are not answering the question they so diligently underline at the start of their beautifully presented word-processed work. Neither do they read their essay through before submitting it. Some believe everything the computer grammar-checker tells them, hence all sentences take up less than three lines, colons are something to do with irrigation, and semi-colons the result of vindaloo the night before a deadline.

Practical criticism seems to be regarded as "constructive political comment" and critical analysis is something that "really has to be studied".

I am starting to recite my "the jobs market is tough enough for arts graduates even with excellent communication skills" lecture in my sleep. Am I expecting too much? Pass the Prozac.

Penny Davies Barry, Vale of Glamorgan

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