May 15, 1996

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Two granddaughters of former President Bush are going public.
Coming through the door at Anywhere High School, a visitor is struck by the legacy of more than two decades of school-based "prevention wars." In the main office, a bulletin board announces the start of a new AIDS program, led by a teacher who taught classes in health and nutrition when thoseissues were highly visible.
As a college professor for over a quarter of a century, I have been struck by the steady, almost annual decline in the literacy of students. This observation has been confirmed by colleagues in various disciplines at virtually all universities with which I have had contact. By literacy, I mean (1) the capacity to read a sophisticated written work and to understand the major ideas expressed by the author and (2) the capacity to write polished prose consisting of complete words, sentences, and paragraphs using standard English conventions. Oral communication is also normally included under "literacy," but I am mainly concerned here with two of the "three R's"-- reading and (w)riting.
As Tommy Lasorda said, paraphrasing Emerson, "Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the gallon." So, not having enough ink for an argument, I have three quibbles about the quality of public discourse these days around the issue of English standards.
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)

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