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Writing Skills Are No Elective

April 17, 1986

I note with some concern David Haldane's article, "Cal State Long Beach Students Assail Graduation Essay Exam" (March 31 reprise of earlier story in Long Beach section of The Times). My concern is not with students' criticism of the exam, per se, nor their desire for a more detailed evaluation (although this may or may nor be justified); it is with the attitude of students expressed in the quote from Stacey Schwartz: "I'm not going to be a writer, I (want) to be a psychologist. This is garbage."

Perhaps the quotation is out of context and does not accurately reflect Ms. Schwartz's understanding of what should be expected of any college graduate, regardless of his or her major study.

Does she not know that most positions of responsibility in the business and professional world frequently require the ability to communicate well and at some length in writing, usually in the form of memorandums, reports and the like? Does she not realize that even psychologists often have to write detailed case histories to be read and understood by others? Does she not see that without the power to express herself adequately in writing she will severely limit her professional career?

Many applications for employment in the better paying positions require applicants to write a half page or so describing themselves, their interests, their job expectations or any other subject. Employers are impressed by a person's ability to organize his thoughts under pressure and present them on paper in a clear, concise manner. And often a quick glance at a short essay that is composed of one-sentence paragraphs, misspelled words and sentence fragments is sufficient for the reader to form a negative impression.

I suspect that Ms. Schwartz does, in fact, realize the importance of the written word and that the quotation attributed to her was made more in frustration than in substance. Certainly I can understand her extreme disappointment at failing the essay exam, especially after her other achievements in writing. (I must add parenthetically that I have read a number of professionally written grant proposals that were unsuccessful primarily because of poor organization and inability to communicate.)

Perhaps the system for grading the exam or the exam itself needs revision. Has a delegation of representative students made a formal request to confer with appropriate members of the CSULB faculty? That would be an obvious first step, although Mr. Haldane's article does not so indicate.

The finger of blame can be pointed in many directions. What is more important, however, is that firm steps be taken at all levels of our educational system to ensure that college grads can indeed communicate effectively, both orally and in writing.


Huntington Beach

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