15 December 2006

Education and the Lack Thereof

As I corrected exams this week, I came across some amazingly bad grammar and spelling, in addition to the usual mistakes that students make. Varèse became "Verez," "minimalism" was re-spelled as "minimalizm," and a different student wrote "boltz." There were some sentences that made little sense: I think one said something like "Ruth Crawford her husband promoted total serialism for the time then they turned to doing folk music." A couple of our students are from foreign countries, but these particular offenders are native English speakers.

What is going on in our schools?

I knew it was bad, and I knew that students could graduate from high school and still barely be able to read or write. I didn't know that they'd make it as far as being juniors at a relatively prestigious university and still not be able to spell a plural word or write coherent complex sentences. I begin to understand why the profs I had as an undergrad thought I was a pretty good student: I come to class, pay attention, and can spell. Not only can I spell English words, I can even spell the names of French composers!

One of the professors at the grading party pointed out that these students are admitted because they can play their instruments well, not because they can write. I said, "But they're juniors! Didn't anyone make them take English Composition 101, or Logic 101 for that matter?" To which said professor replied, "You're thinking like a student from a liberal arts school. You're in the school of music now." People, send your kids to liberal arts schools if you can. If you're sending them to a school of music or something like that, make sure that they can read and write before you send them, because they won't learn it there. Music history teachers are going to try and teach performance students how to write, but ultimately, our subject is a hard sell and there's only so much we can do beyond saying, "Learn to spell, because someday you'll be writing your own program notes. Your computer's spellcheck will tell you that 'serialism' is spelled wrong, and you're going to need to know that it's right."

Also, you're going to be writing a cover letter when you apply for a job.

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