Or at least that’s the unsubstantiated claim put forth in a recent US News & World Report article. According to Terry Wood of St. Mary’s Ryken (MD), there has been a “dramatic decline” in the writing abilities of her students “due to Tweeting, Facebook, and texting.”
What strikes me as unfortunate, if not irresponsible, about this statement is the causal link Ms. Wood draws between social media and a decline in writing abilities (See: Correlation does not imply causation). Using only anecdotal evidence, she states (as fact) that social media is making our students terrible writers.
Stepping back from that logical fallacy though, I tend to agree that some (if not most) students struggle to determine when to use formal versus informal speech; however, I do not think this is a new phenomenon.
In fact, the article, titled How Slang Affects Students in the Classroom, could easily have been written at other points throughout history. It hardly seems surprising that both students and teachers have discussed this for decades, if not centuries. Here is one example of a debate in the University Missourian newspaper from 1913: According to one professor in the article, “Slang is all right in spoken language, but not in written. A certain amount of slang keeps one from being too academic.”
Another example from 1924 the Daily Illini discusses a professor’s new book on the use of slang. In his book, Professor H.G. Paul reminds his students, “The desire for [slang as novelty of words] is not in itself bad. Teachers must direct such desires in the proper channels by presenting good examples and fostering a pride in language.”
So many decades ago, students obviously had no conception of social media or texting, yet clearly similar issues arose.
Is it possible that the issue is more prevalent or “worse” today? Perhaps— but rather than bemoan the technology that facilitates the use of slang, I urge educators to consider new teaching techniques that clearly delineate the parameters of formal language usage.
For example, allow students opportunities to engage academically both formally and informally (say through the use of Twitter or texting). Or, in Dr. Paul’s timeless words, “direct such desires in the proper channels.”