The Kids Don’t Read

As part of a recent talk to a group of university students, I emphasized my biggest “if I had to do it over again” thought: I wished I’d spent more time in English class. The big lesson was that I’d undervalued writing and communication skills as I made my way through school. In hindsight that was a mistake.

It’s something I’ve written about before. I wished I’d done things a little differently and invested more time and energy on those skills.

In speaking to a couple of the professors after my talk, I learned something rather disheartening.

One told me of an engineering class specifically on writing taught to senior-level university students. He asked that class to write a paragraph describing the most recent book that they’d read.

What came to light is that – aside from textbooks – most had not actually read a book since leaving high school.

Nearly four years without reading a book.

Oh, they’d been reading – textbooks, of course, web posts, messages, and whatnot, but no actual books. (I’m not talking about the physical versus digital distinction here. Any long-form writing that we’d call a book would quality, not matter how it’s published.)

And what’s one of the most common pieces of advice to improve your writing? Read more books. Read better books. Read books that are examples of the well-written word.

Yes, school is a busy time, I get that. But even so, my equivalent years in the university included not only school and a part-time job, but I was still simultaneously reading science fiction and fantasy at a breakneck pace. There was even a class offered in school on the topic, and you bet I was there.

Apparently, that’s not the case today.

Is it any wonder that engineers are leaving school without the ability to properly express themselves in writing?