The Dying Art of Words


A quarter of young people in Britain rarely or never write something that isn’t to do with their schoolwork, according to a survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust in 2015. This same survey also revealed that, compared to 27% in 2014, only 20% of teenagers in 2015 wrote daily outside of school, and the vast majority of their writing consisted of online messages. When it comes to reading, a similar study conducted in America in 2014 showed that just over 50% of all children read for pleasure, a figure which has declined from 60% in 2010.

Figures like these paint a worrying picture for the future. No one can deny the importance of good literacy and the professional skills it promotes, such as better problem solving, better decision making, and all-round better comprehension and evaluation skills. More importantly however, literacy, by encouraging creativity and critical thinking, also enables people to better understand and engage with others and society as a whole. But why do so many young people increasingly seem to avoid reading and writing for pleasure?

One possible answer which has gained a lot of support is that it is because the education system commodifies literacy and neglects personal creativity. Students are taught that there is a certain way to write in order to get good grades, and anything which does not follow these rules is ‘bad’ writing and thus a ‘failure’. This can severely decrease students’ confidence in their creative and discursive writing skills.  Furthermore, the sheer volume of texts students are expected to read and analyse often leads them to search for other forms of entertainment – such as on-demand television or films – which require less active thinking and more passive viewing.

In short, while most young people (as evidenced by the findings of the National Literacy Trust survey) still do write on a regular basis, less and less of it is for creative purposes. The education system – and society as a whole – must do more to promote creativity amongst students and prevent a whole generation from losing their voice.

[Luke McWilliams]

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