The problem

Students don’t learn to write from school

Schools are meant to equip students with key skills, yet they no longer do. In particular, I have observed that most school English teachers write just as badly as everyone else. Students in my classes quoted the nonsense that such teachers told them. No wonder so little learning occurs; teachers are ignorant of the important issues, and actively mislead students.

It’s just as bad after school. Universities are supposed to include specific writing courses. While some of the better schools do, the vast majority of university programs either provide perfunctory instruction of limited value, or don’t address this topic at all.

Students who take the initiative can teach themselves. Otherwise, they’re left with specialised writing courses. At university level, these feature lots of pseudointellectual babble about writing-theory. This is not the same as learning how to write, in the same way that discussing art is not the same as learning how to paint. If the goal is to learn writing, many of the subjects in writing courses are a waste of time.

Furthermore, universities proceed on the assumption that someone with a PhD in a certain field must be qualified to teach that subject. This idea is pure fallacy. A PhD is not a teaching qualification, and most PhD students get zero teaching experience. As proof, consider the students who suffered through countless excruciating lectures of PhD-holders who wasted students’ time and communicated nothing. Also, even if a PhD were a teaching qualification, such qualifications still don’t demonstrate teaching ability. All your worst teachers from school had teaching qualifications. This further shows that qualifications generally mean nothing.

As only cooks could plausibly teach cooking, it follows that only writers can teach writing. Yet having a PhD in writing doesn’t necessarily make one a writer, just as having a PhD in music or art doesn’t make one a musician or artist. Very few writers have or need PhDs. So the university focus entirely misses the point, and most university writing teachers are incompetent to teach the subject unless they are also writers. Very few are.

Furthermore, being a writer doesn’t necessarily mean one can teach writing. A lot of real writers couldn’t teach to save their lives. The combination of writer/teacher is actually very rare. When such ability occurs, it is a personal attribute not gained via formal study.

As an example of the problem, several of my former students were entitled to specialist academic-writing guidance free via their universities. Yet the students found the services unsatisfactory, and chose to pay for my help instead. Far from being isolated occurrences, this problem is so systemic that a student accommodation block in Melbourne provides an academic-writing tutoring service (and wanted to recruit me to do it) because so many students were unhappy with the teaching provided by their various universities.

At sub-university level, the courses may be designed by government committees that exclude professional writers or educators. These courses often miss the mark, waste a lot of time with irrelevancies, and develop skills very little. The content is strongly syllabus-based, which means limited and inflexible, while the teaching style and class content can be decades out of date.

Therefore, as we observe, even after long years of formal schooling, in many cases supplemented with specific writing classes, few people ever directly learn to write.

Conventional methods clearly don’t work. Everyone except teachers can see that. Learners need something better.