Forty-five years ago, I married the best editor I have ever known. Most of the reasons I love Linda have nothing to do with writing, but it’s useful to have her around when wrestling with a difficult column.
I’m lucky. Few people are willing to and capable of helping others produce engaging and instructive prose. Many editors of my books were helpful, but I still remember the one who did not change a word, good for my ego but not for the book. Newspaper editors, at The Washington Post and elsewhere, have more stories to deal with than ever before, but no more time to fix them.
This problem is particularly acute in our schools, where almost all of us learn to write. I got little instruction before a required composition class my sophomore year of college. The situation has gotten worse since then. Few teachers have enough experience and training to show students what is good writing and what is not. Those who have that skill lack the time to share it with all their students and still have lives.
In a recent column, Michael Shaughnessy of EducationViews.org discussed this with Will Fitzhugh, whose Concord Review publishes exemplary high school research papers. They agreed that writing instruction is in crisis. The latest solution — letting computers grade papers — is a dead end.