Sundikova/Shutterstock In her article "The Writing Revolution," Peg Tyre shows the teachers at New Dorp High School beginning to ask the question too few writing teachers ask: What skills do these students lack?
She quotes Nell Scharff, an instructional expert brought in by the school, as saying, "How did the kids in our target group go wrong? " It's a crucial question for those who want to reform the teaching of writing, because once you ask what skills are missing, you can make a list and start a counter-attack.
I wanted to remind her what she knew but had forgotten: that abstractions are what you get when you pull back from (or abstract from) concrete reality -- from the world of things.
But she was on her way to class, and we never did finish the discussion.
The alternative to listing missing skills is to settle into a belief that today's kids are dumb or just not interested in ideas -- which is what usually happens these days.
Essays Through The Eyes Of An Object
As a college writing instructor, I have seen many students show up in a freshman comp class believing they can't write, and their opinion is valid.
Yet the writing textbooks on the whole say nothing about abstractitis, mentioning it at most only in passing.
And instructors do not focus on over-abstraction, even though that's the major problem young writers have.
Few will notice that the terms relationship, wealth, productivity and market society need definition or examples.
They will just move those vague terms around like checkers on a board, repeating them, and hoping that through repetition something will be said. The classic writers on style have talked about this abstraction problem going on a hundred years.