More on the Place at the Table

I so appreciate the continuing comments on "Why No Place at the Table," which was mentioned by DesignObserver recently. Many of the comments I've received put the blame for American designers' being functionally illiterate squarely on the shoulders of the public school system.Two things come to my mind here.

First, I went to public school in California--Terra Linda High School: a big, sprawling place that, at the time I was there, enrolled more than 2000 students. I am sure that plenty of people came out of that school functionally illiterate. But if they took writing with Patrick Skinner, they came out writing well, no matter how poorly they had written when they came to his class. It takes one motivating teacher and one semester of weekly writing assignments to train a person to write well.

I'm not saying that that person will be "a writer," but she will know where to put a comma, when it is "it's" and when it is "its," and all the rules of writing that my students do not know. Like drawing, writing is a skill, and anyone can learn the basics.

Second, because a person did not learn to write in high school does not mean he is doomed to drag himself through his life as a designer not knowing how to argue on paper, nor does it mean that he wants to do so. As I said, learning to write takes one semester. Of all the students I have encountered, not one has told me that writing is unimportant. I have never had a student tell me that she is not interested in learning to write well. I have never had a student tell me writing is valueless. Most students look sheepish when they turn in their papers. They feel inadequate to the task. But they are not uninterested. In fact, they look a bit desperate for help.

Perhaps I run into especially motivated students. Or maybe they fear me and feign interest. ( I can hope.) But I think we do students a disservice when we assume that they do not want to write. I think we need to teach them. We need to expect it of them-- and of ourselves.