Why Can’t Our Students Write Well? Texting? – How About A Decline In Reading?

Photo illustration by Sergio Sanchez and Cody Richeson (for Eastfield Et Cetera)


R.I.P. English? Texting is giving proper grammar the proverbial ‘dirt-nap’ by Leslie Villeda.  I teach Speech at Eastfield College, one of the Dallas County Community College campuses.  This is the current cover story for our school newspaper.  Here are some excerpts:

OMG I cnt blieve ppl rly rite like diz. lol. Wats up wit dat??? SMH. 🙁

Millions of Americans communicate on a daily basis via text messaging, often using a cryptic new language filled with abbreviations and acronyms. And while technology has allowed people to communicate and stay in touch with friends and relatives, it may also be bringing about the downfall of the English language.

There was a time when kids went to school and were taught one simple rule about writing: You can’t break the rules until you’ve learned them. Unfortunately, the texters and grammar “rule breakers” are getting younger and younger these days. So young, in fact, that they are breaking the rules without giving themselves an opportunity to learn them.

This leaves no chance for learning actual English.

“As a writing teacher, I can tell you firsthand that it [texting] definitely is hampering the kids’ ability to spell, first and foremost,” said Keysha Smith, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Robert T. Hill Middle School in Dallas. “Number two, students don’t have a good grasp of grammar or a complete sentence because they don’t write in complete sentences. Sentence structure is out the window.”

There is also a problem with kids incorporating texting lingo into their academic writing.

I think the article raises a really important conversation.  But…  here’s what I think.  Is the proliferation of the shorthand used in texting a problem?  Is it contributing to a decline in writing skills – writing with proper grammar, proper structure?  Probably.  But it is not the main culprit.  The main culprit is a little simpler – and much more alarming.

People are not reading enough!

Children and students (up through college age), are developing a habit that is far more deadly to their communication skills than their texting is.  That habit is a lifestyle devoid of reading.  The time that earlier generations spent reading, this generation spends on video games, and a whole lot of texting.  The average child-through-teenager literally sends (and reads!) thousands of text messages a month.  Consider this from a Nielsen Co. study (read the summary here):

The average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives a whopping 3,339 text messages a month, and adults’ use of text messaging is starting to climb — although to nowhere near the levels of American teens.

With so much time spent in texting, the average teenager simply is not exposed to actual, good, writing.

So here’s my theory.   We need to help our teenagers read more.  We need to get militant/obsessed/fanatical about making our students actually read — read well written material.  Daily.  Weekly.  Over the long haul.

You learn to write partly by exposing yourself to good writing – by reading good books by good authors.  Texting may contribute to bad writing habits, but it is only the current evasive activity.  Put lots of good books in the hands of students, and make sure they actually read the books – this is the need of the hour!


A personal note:  of course I think things were “better” when I was young (doesn’t everyone?).  No video games.  No texting.  Lots and lots of books.  In my own life I started with comic books, then went to the Hardy Boys, then Nero Wolfe, then Mickey Spillane, then “serious books.”  I read every Hardy Boys book, every Nero Wolfe book (still re-read these periodically), every Mickey Spillane book…  and now, I read every Malcolm Gladwell, book, and nearly every book by quite a few other authors (Michael Lewis comes to mind).

Do you read?  How did you learn to love reading?   I imagine that you learned to love to read by reading.  I know of no other path.

2 thoughts on “Why Can’t Our Students Write Well? Texting? – How About A Decline In Reading?

  1. Danielle Pacelli

    It is so silly to suggest that any language is being “destroyed.” Languages do not get destroyed… they only evolve. I would also argue that teenagers are much more literate than their parents… culture changes so fast. Saying kids spend all day playing video games is like saying kids are being dehumanized by rock and roll. Kids spend all day ONLINE READING. Whether or not it’s what they need to be reading is a different story, but people are definitely reading.

  2. Randy Mayeux Post author


    Yes, I am showing my age — I admit it.

    But you are right on this point. I probably could temper my words, especially my comment about video games. There is new, and growing, evidence that a lot can be gained by playing video games.

    And, yes, kids may/do spend all day reading. But, I am somewhat old-fashioned. A good book is a more valuable read, in my opinion, than a long list of maybe-disconnected text messages. And, in the classes I teach (College Level) I find some pretty alarming gaps between what my students know and what they “should” know — about current events, great literature… the list is a little long.

    But, thanks for your comment. You gave me some important points to consider.


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