The Michigan Daily-Sunday, October 30, 1977-Page 7
Profs explore causes of literacy decline
(Continued from Page 1)
Markets would like to see "more
comp courses and more writing courses
required in other departments besides
English: There's got to be more writing
across the University."
THIS SEEMS to be the consensus
across college campuses - more
writing throughout university colleges
and departments. As Michigan's direc-
tor of freshman composition, Professor
Bernard Van't Hul, puts it, "It's a
radically false premise that the
tgaching of writing is the sole expertise
of English majors."
VAN'T HUL SAYS that it is "an ugly
stereotype" that the only writing cours-
es should be offered in the English de-
partment. "It's really false," he says.
"No one has a monopoly on the trade.
You don't have to be an English major
to be good at it and you don't have to be
an English major to derive joyfrom it."
Van't Hul said he would like to see
every department offer writing courses
at their advanced levels, "so you
wouldn't be able to get out of an ad-
vanced course in say, psych, without
demonstrating an ability to manipulate
your knowledge of the subject by writ-
ing it down."
UNLIKE A number of his colleagues,
Van't Hul does not believe in "the myth
of the decline" of students' writing
abilities. "Belief in the decline is real,"
he says, "shared by your mythical per-
son on the street and your flesh-and-
blood teachers in their classrooms.
"I don't believe that anyone 'can
claim a decline in intelligence," Van't
Hul says. "In the 1930s, there were
fewer people trying to write. There are
now more people in college, and conse-
quently you'll see more bad writing.
Teachers are seeing more bad writing
than ever before. They are probably
seeing as much good writing as ever be-
Van't Hul does admit that there is a
decline in test scores like the SAT, but
insists that the decline in scores "is due
to a different constituency of high
school kids taking these tests. More
people want to go to college."
HE ALSO POINTS out that no one has
ever been able to prove the correlation
between the SAT test scores and an
ability to write. "I would never say
there's no decline," Van't Hul says.
"I'm just saying that there's no way to
measure whether there is or not."
Still, Van't Hul said he sees the need
for more writing requirements at the
University, "because I don't think one
term is enough for anyone."
One who agrees with Van't Hul
about the "myth" of the decline is
University of Minnesota's Prof. Julie
Carson. She takes Van't Huls argu-
ments even one step further, and
denies any decline at all.
CARSON SAYS that "far more
pervasive" than any decline is that
people are judging today's writers by
the old-time standards. "The large
claim now is that students tend to
write as they speak. People say this
is terrible, but the complexity of the
sentences is still there."
WHY THE DECLINE?
DECLINE OR no decline, most
teachers of English tend to agree that
there is indeed a shift away from the
traditional standards of English. The
causes of this shift are, as one
professor called them, too numerous
to count, but among the most
frequently mentioned are:
a) The advent of television. Profes-
sor Fader says, "We are now at the
end of a quarter-century of televi-
sion. This last generation was not
predisposed to literacy."
Professor Van't Hul also admits,
"All those hours in front of that tube,
when we used to be reading a book,
makes me wonder."
b) The role of high schools. Fader
points out that class size has in-
creased and "students have less
chance to write for independent eval-
c) The training of public school
teachers. Ohio State's Markels says,
"I place a large responsibility on the
way teachers are trained.
"I think that public school teachers
are not adequately trained by the
board of education. They load teach-
ers up with all kinds of methods
d) The role of parents. Markel
says, "Parents don't communicate to
students the need for competence in
Van't Hul agrees. "How many kids
have their parents read to them at
night? How many kids saw their
parents open a book that day, that
week, or that month?
e) The increasing importance of
film. Movies are beginning to replace
books as a form of literature. "The
grandiose claim is that this genera-
tion is 'filmic'," says Van't Hul. "As-
piration isn't books anymore, it's
f) Van't Hul says,. "Reading and
writing is no big deal to millions of
people. You've got a culture indis-
posed to writing."
Prof. Markel of Ohio State adds,
"The decline is really a decline in
competence, and the decline in
competence is real all over this so-
ciety - except in sports."
THE HIGH SCHOOLS RESPOND
When asked about the causes of the
decline in writing competence among
University students, most professors
across the country pointed to the high
schools. They said overcrowded
classrooms, poorly-trained teachers,
and lax requirements contribute to
the shift from the old standards of
High schools, however, take excep-
tion to the charge of causing the
rotten writing, and many officials
say they are helping to arrest the
"IT'S BOTTOMED out and I think
it's improving," says Jean Procas-
key, English department head at the'
Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. "It's
been given top priority by the Board
of Education, and the writing assign-
ments are certainly being given top
priority around here."
Pioneer' has a three-year English
requirement for all students, and
encourages every student to seek
extra help and individualized instruc-
"During the '60s and '70s the at-
mosphere was not conducive to
writing. Now, there's a great deal
more emphasis on writing."
Though some professors' think
there is a decline and some think
there is not, one thing all agree on is
the need for a change. The most
frequently mentioned addition, and
the one stated in the ECB recom-
mendations, was more composition
courses taught in other departments
Professor Van't Hul says, "It's
much more profitable to say 'You're
a chemist, let's work on your writing
as a chemist'."
The professor cautions, however,
"Obviously, it's dead, it's doomed -
unless the professors from all the
departments agree to it."
Ai 1r Trio
(Continued from Page5)
Charlie Parker and Dizzy played was a
different language, and I loved it. The
sixties and seventies are a new time
tghough and our music embodies that."
(Continued from Page )
though, was her portrayal of Viola in
Twelfth Night internally torn as she
was asked to describe her lover to the
deceived Orlando. The inability to
reveal her true identity as the woman
she truly is and not the messenger-boy
Cesario is evident by the uneasiness
and desire molded into her face.
I F ALEXANDER-WILLIS was the
star of Shakespeare's springtime,
Sir Michael Redgravewas the sun of his
Summer roles. After opening with a
surprisingly lifeless recitation of Son-
net XVIII ("Shall I compare thee to a
summer's day?"), the world-renowned
actor recovered himself with the best
performance of the evening.
nadting the king's return from Ire-
land in Richard II, Sir Michael seem-
ingly melted into the weary and de-
feated monarch. Overcome with the
sadness of disillusion, he signed out his:
lines in a quavering voice as he groped
expressively with his hands for the seat
behind him. The spotlight gleaming in
the tragic figure's eyes glinted off the
building tears that finally overflowed
as he discharged his authority over the
Unquestionably the finest section of
the evening, the Summer section also
provided two other fine performances,
though somewhat dimmed in the wake
of Sir Michael's previous excellent per-
formance. David Dodimead then ren-
dered the snide Falstaff of Henry IV,
Part I in all his sardonic power.
Despite Schnetzer's fine reflections
as Hamlet, the clarity of Dodimead's
verbal painting of Enobarbus describ-
ing Cleopatra's barge on the Nile, and
Alexander-Willis' own precious ex-
pression bewilderment as Beatrice
from Much Ado About Nothing, the
Autumn segment was notably lacking
due to the latter's over-theatrical por-
trayal of Lady MacBeth. The longest
and most central scene of the section,
the murder of Duncan was the first
outlet for the young actress in a non-
comic scene. Nose flaring as shp
sneered, her facial expression was
flawless - but she failed as she fell into
an overly-metrical and overly-dramat-
Fortunately, Sir Michael as MacBeth
was somewhat able to offset the uneven
performance as with eyes closed, voice
wound in a deep rasp of almost animal
anguish, the guilt-ridden regicide wails
at the pounding at the gates, "Wake
Duncan with thy knocking, I would thou
TN THE FINAL section, Shake-
speare's Winter, the formerly dull
acting of Schnetzer finally shone was
reversed in his role as the shepherd's
son in A Winter's Tale Flailing, wide-
eyed, growling and gnarling as he de-
scribed the ship and bear attack he has
just seen, he is marvelous.
Another highlight of the Winter sec-
tion comes in the next scene, taken
from King Lear as Lear is reunited with
Cordelia. Here the once powerful frame
of the ruined king is portrayed by Sir
Michael in all its faded glory. Withered
by suffering, he is seated at center
stage in a twisted posture with arm
wrapped over his head and leg bent
awkwardly under him on the floor. On-
ce again without a word the scene is set.
A fitting ending to the play was the
last scene, from Shakespeare's last
play, The Tempest, in which Prospero
(and Shakespeare himself) renounces
his art. With the conclusion of the
speech, Sir Michael threw his arms
down with "I'll drown my book," the
lights blackened, and immediately the
haunting strains-of "When That I was
and a Little Tiny Boy" from Twelfth
Night began, with quite a dramatic ef-
In conclusion, the play was excellent,
the performances by Sir Michael and
Alexander-Willis shone, and it is well
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