As an advisor in the English Department, I get to meet all sorts of interesting people, and almost all of them are English majors. But this week I had an early morning appointment with a "civilian" - the type that comes up from time to time... We'll call her Cici.
Cici already had all of her degrees... and the job of her dreams, working in the advertising division of a national home improvement store. So why was she in the office of the English advisor at 9am? Because her boss told her she has to get her writing together, or get lost.
"Even my emails," she told me, "my boss says they're terrible... I don't use the right there/their/they're - I write like I talk, and it's not clear." Apparently at first she took flak from her co-workers, but thought they were just razzing her over "no big deal" - but then the boss came along and had the sit-down with her: people are talking; you can't write; you have to be able to write to work here.
I told Cici about a class I taught in Arkansas, "Advanced Comp" - a business writing class thrust upon any student who did not get at least an A & B in Freshman Comp, or could not test out on a writing test. The first assignment in that class, I told her, was for the students to find people who have the jobs they want, and then interview those people about how much writing is a part of their job.
"Pft," students would say. "No writing where I'm going. Shortest interview ever!"
Then they'd return from their interviews: "Holy crap! I'm going to have to do so much writing I don't know what to do - I'm trapped in hell - I can't do this - I'm scared to death! - help help help!" Constant internal email memos. Typing up impromptu contracts. Composing brochures. Updating websites. Describing products. Corresponding with customers. On and on.
And so at the 11th hour some small fraction of America's soon-to-be-workforce would actually begin to care enough to learn how to write.
The New York Times did a story on this issue a few years ago, and I included the reading of that story as an assignment in ELEMENTS of ENC 3213, the companion book I wrote with Barclay Barrios for FAU's Writing for Management course. I don't know how many instructors at FAU have actually had their students read that article and answer the questions, but it would probably snap a few heads to. American companies are spending billions on remedial writing classes for employees at all levels: the companies are aggravated, the employees are embarrassed, and the bottom line is affected.
I explained to Cici how, in English departments, we spend a lot of time trying to warn students that these are skills that will affect their lives, and we mostly get rolling eyes. Cici nodded her head furiously: "that was me," she said. "I totally blew off my English classes. I didn't realize...!"
And so now, here she is: a walking warning to all! A professional woman re-enrolling with the undergrads to learn her there/their/they're and how to compose a logical sentence. To all of ye who think you can write like you talk and NOT be thought of as a mental 4-year-old, BEHOLD: it is not so.
The good news is, those few English majors whose focus is writing, teaching writing, grammar, etc., can expect opportunities for employment to continue to grow!