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GW's Writing Program:
A Fine Idea
By David Bruce Smith, BA '79

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GW’s Writing Program: A Fine Idea

By David Bruce Smith, BA ’79

Today, colleges and universities are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Thousands of students are being enrolled and graduated with little or no writing experience. In addition, many may pass through their college days without composing even one paper. This situation causes additional problems for students when they start looking for jobs—and get them.

George Washington is about to incorporate an innovative and forward-looking plan into its new strategy of academic excellence. This fall, the University expects to implement phase one of its mandatory, interdisciplinary writing program into the curriculum.

If one looks back, one will see that GW’s new program is in line with earlier educational practices, when a teacher’s primary responsibilities were to teach their students how to read and write. Usually they mastered these skills at varying rates by the finish of high school. But, in the last 20 years, something happened: Many educators inadvertently veered off course.

These significant and intertwined skills started to unravel when the generator-sized computer was shrunk into a portable that could be hand carried into the classroom. Ironically, this magnificent technology, which arguably has refashioned the world, should have been instantly recognized and embraced as a teacher’s invaluable tool. Instead, it frequently turned into a diversion from basic learning.

No one would argue that good communication has always been vital to civilization. The craft of good letter writing, for example, was historically universal as the primary communication vehicle. One cannot help wondering what people in the next century will learn about us from our e-mails.

It could be said that the dearth of student writing power is a reflection of the world—a much different place than it was two decades ago. Changes occur at a faster, more dramatic rate. Almost everything operates at enormously high speeds; children learn at a very early age about computers. Indeed, one barely has time to think about the moment, or even about how the world and how we have changed.

Although learning the art of writing can be difficult, mastering it somewhat is important. Having such a talent promotes self-confidence and expertise. Honing it can be helped along by reading often, and the newly acquired know-how can be utilized to begin a journal, become a poet, devise short stories, send more literate e-mails, or create a wonderfully concise resume.

I chose to take English during the summer prior to the start of my freshman year. This summer class was small, we received a lot of attention, but because of the compressed time period of five weeks, we had a daily composition and a major project. Mostly, it was a fabulous course.

Students do eventually realize that improved writing can result in higher grades, more respect from professors, and possibly greater career success. An employee’s written records—memos, letters, reports, and evaluation—do say a lot about an employee. And, in the end, that is how he or she is remembered.

David Bruce Smith is a member of GW’s Board of Trustees. He also is the editor/publisher of Crystal City Magazine.