Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on Linkedin and was then submitted by the author and adopted for publication in The Badger Herald. 
Once, my sister attempted to explain something to my family, none of whom understood. She huffed, “I explained it well, you just didn’t understand.”
Unfortunately, that situation is all too common. You can be a genius, but without the skills to successfully communicate your ideas to others, all is futile. English is the one component of our education system upon which all others rely, whether it be math, science or social science. It is the lightbulb, the illumination, enabling all others to be seen, understood and remembered. While discussing education with a fellow student, he shared, “I consider my [English] skills terrible compared to where I want to be.” College is not the time to be learning the basics, but, instead, the time to be applying the basics to higher learning. If our English skills do not improve, the documentation and innovation of our other studies will begin to suffer.
When I stepped onto the University of Wisconsin campus and into the collegiate world, I was excited to be surrounded by the brightest of my generation. (UW is one of the top 30 schools in the world.) However, what I discovered shocked me. In every single one of my classes, the professors lectured on grammar, punctuation and spelling. I thought, “Ridiculous. What college student does not know the correct placement of quotation marks?” . . . Apparently most of us. As the year progressed, I came to the realization that while these kids were bright, they lacked the ability to communicate their brilliance.

During an English literature class discussion, my TA informed us that we were not to write in cursive on our blue book exam. Therefore, I was restricted from using cursive because of founded expectations of illegibility. Our discussion quickly turned to the topic of cursive writing and many of my classmates shared that they did not remember, or had never learned, how to write it. This discovery of students’ lack of competency with their own written language has been a hard realization. Our high schools are no longer turning out graduates with high school English abilities, leading to a decline in expectations at college and from our college graduates.

Even after my acceptance to UW, I was required to take a placement test to see if I needed to take a remedial English course — our institutions of higher learning realize a high school diploma no longer signifies one’s ability to construct correct, cohesive and concise paragraphs or even write a legible handwritten note. Noah Webster, the author of Webster’s New World Dictionary and other school curricula around the time of the Revolutionary War, once stated, “We should remember that unless the Greeks and Romans had taken more pains with their language than we do with ours, they would not have been so celebrated by modern nations.”

Therefore, as current college students, how can we change the status quo? The clock cannot be reversed, throwing us back into the realm of high school studies (I cry at the mere thought). Will we be forever bound to lectures on basic English skills? Of first and foremost importance is a dedication to improvement. Everyone must first understand the importance of solid English skills. However, everyone must endeavor to improve their own and apply them to classes outside of basic English credits. College provides the knowledge and the energy, but without an outlet, all that hard work is pointless. This next generation has the potential for brilliance; give them the communication skills they need, the lightbulb, and they can share their brilliance with the world.

Jessica Thomas ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering and English.