The Kids are Still All Right

No, kids aren’t getting worse at writing, we’re just trash who think we were better: 

In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Students in first-year composition classes are, on average, writing longer essays (from an average of 162 words in 1917, to 422 words in 1986, to 1,038 words in 2006), using more complex rhetorical techniques, and making no more errors than those committed by freshman in 1917. That’s according to a longitudinal study of student writing by Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, “Mistakes Are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study.

In 2006, two rhetoric and composition professors, Lunsford and Lunsford, decided, in reaction to government studies worrying that students’ literacy levels were declining, to crunch the numbers and determine if students were making more errors in the digital age.


The study found no evidence for claims that kids are increasingly using “text speak” or emojis in their papers. Lunsford and Lunsford did not find a single such instance of this digital-era error. Ironically, they did find such text speak and emoticons in teachers’ comments to students. (Teachers these days?)

I have a dumb theory about this, which seems to be borne out in another study the authors quote:

In shifting from texting to writing their English papers, college students must become adept at code-switching, using one form of writing for certain purposes (gossiping with friends) and another for others (summarizing plots). As Kristen Hawley Turner writes in “Flipping the Switch: Code-Switching from Text Speak to Standard English,” students do know how to shift from informal to formal discourse, changing their writing as occasions demand. Just as we might speak differently to a supervisor than to a child, so too do students know that they should probably not use “conversely” in a text to a friend or “LOL” in their Shakespeare paper. “

Those of us who are in our 30s, 40s and older had to learn both ways of communicating (online and off-) and were used to using only one for writing, so we tend to slip up more. We also tend to get mad at the generations after us because they’re using what was OUR new shiny way of thinking to do things that aren’t about us, and apparently despite my fondest hopes people my own damn age are still old enough to bore on about trivial youths yik-yakking on the snapchats.


One thought on “The Kids are Still All Right

  1. My Black employees talked to each other on their cell phones in a hip-hop jargon so thick that, while I understood it, I couldn’t possibly reproduce it. Then when they spoke to the customers, they became English professors, using the “white dialect” of a TV newscaster.

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