Archive for Saturday, February 18, 2006

Luminaries tout importance of written communication skills

February 18, 2006

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A great deal of attention is given these days to this nation's educational system. It is possible more money is spent on public education than any other single segment of our society. It is hoped this money has produced, and continues to produce, the world's finest public education system.

However, from time to time, there are discouraging stories about how American school children, as well as young men and women, fail to measure up in their knowledge of various subjects, compared with their counterparts in other nations. At times, it is shocking to learn how poorly Americans score in tests on history and geography.

It is disgraceful such a high percentage of this nation's adult population cannot read above the eighth-grade level, adults who cannot read a phone book or a classified ad in a newspaper telling about job opportunities. Consider how limited and handicapped an individual is if he or she cannot read, write or communicate, and yet this problem is all too common in our country today.

A nonprofit organization called the College Board, headquartered in New York City, is the nation's largest educational testing organization.

It has more than 5,000 institutional members and owns SAT and the Advanced Placement program. One of its services is a magazine titled Review, which is published three times a year. The current issue of this highly acclaimed magazine should be required reading for elementary school, high school and even college-level educators. Parents of school-age children also should read this particular issue of Review.

The entire magazine is devoted to "Writing in Daily life," and College Board President Gaston Caperton leads off the magazine with these words: "Writing is important to everyone." He notes, "The ability to write well means you have the ability to communicate feelings and ideas, to motivate people, even to solve conflicts. Writing helps us put together thoughts and express them effectively."

The magazine has articles written by Mario Cuomo, who focuses on "Why Writing is Important." He said young people today are "reading less, reading fewer books and magazines that are well written : very few people will read a classic or even a great speech."

Harry Layman, chief technology officer of iSold It LLC in Pasadena, Calif., wrote an article titled "There Is No Substitute for Communicating Clearly."

Kansas University's football great, Gale Sayers, has a piece in the magazine, in which he writes, "I hope my impassioned words over the years have made a difference for many of the young people who have heard me speak. Having both bachelor's and master's degrees gives me clear credibility with young men and women, their parents and their teachers."

Sayers continues, "I cannot overemphasize the value of writing in today's highly competitive world. Without this fundamental skill, your chances in life are bleak; with it, you can compete and eventually score on the sometimes rugged field of life."

Former baseball great Joe Morgan writes, "Good communication skills enrich us all."

John Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communication, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, contributed an article titled "Explanation and Interpretation: Science, Technology and Writing."

Scientist Kristine Kuroiwa at the graduate school and university center of the Central University of New York wrote, "Even in science, the ability to write well is essential."

Each of these writers makes a powerful statement of how, in each of their fields, good writing skills are essential.

Lt. Sean Newman, a 10-year veteran in the New York City Fire Department, wrote, "Good writing is not an obscure talent used only by the most erudite and privileged of our society." He added, "Good writing can separate you from the pack, because all careers require communication."

Omaha's Warren Buffett received an award about a year ago for "extraordinary contributions to the art and craft of writing." The Berkshire Hathaway chief executive received the award from the National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools and Colleges. Presenting the award were former Nebraska senator and current commission president Bob Kerrey; Gene Budig, former Kansas University chancellor and College Board senior presidential adviser; and Caperton, president of the College Board.

In his Review article, Buffett noted, "One way or another, you have to project your ideas to other people."

He continued, "Writing isn't necessarily easy. Bob Benchley said the important thing in writing is to start. So, he said, every morning he went down at 8 o'clock and he sat down in front of his typewriter, and he typed in 'the.' He then said that at about 11:30 he put in 'hell with it,' and left. There are days when you feel that way. But the important thing is to write. There's no way to go and enter at the twelfth-grade level in writing; you have to go through all the steps. But you get better and better at it, and I encourage everybody to do that."

By the way, Buffett writes his company's annual report to stockholders, and it is one of the best in the nation. He knows what he is talking about when he stresses the importance of good writing. He is outstanding.

Budig, as noted above, is the senior presidential adviser and advisory board chairman of the College Board. He plays an active role in the organization and encouraged many of the above-mentioned luminaries to contribute to the Review.

Again, the magazine is excellent and should be required reading for teachers, students and parents.

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