The article Dave cites poses some interesting questions. Apparently not all the children, in classes where writing was not taught, remained incapable of expressing thoughts clearly in writing. So how do/did children who were not formally taught writing, acquire writing skills? Does it have to do with a home environment? How many parents assume an active role in their children’s intellectual development?
A number of years ago, I was working on an operator training project for a great U.S. papermaking company, and happened to get talking about it with one of that company’s executives. He said, of the company’s operators (with regard to the problems of systematic training): “most of them haven’t, for the last twenty or thirty years, read anything beyond the funnies page in the weekend newspaper, and haven’t written anything, other than their name on the check at the supermarket”. This was a disdainful, elitist remark, of the “give them a bathtub and they’ll keep coal in it” category*--- but the question remains, what chance has a kid who grows up in an essentially illiterate home environment, of escaping from it—other than whatever chance school provides? And how do some children overcome the shortcomings of such an environment, and become literate against the odds, even when school fails to provide help?
Some time ago, we discussed this subject against the background of 1984. Orwell’s premise was that by keeping people illiterate (with Newspeak etc.) you could keep them from thinking clearly about their own position in society, and thus control them more easily. There was a lot of disagreement in the forum, I recall, with this premise --- but the phenomena described in the cited article do seem to lend it some support.
(Note: when I see Facebook’s reduction of criticism to “Like/don’t like” I can’t help being reminded of “good/ungood”.)
* Illiteracy is not the exclusive property of manual workers. Talking to this exec., I happened to use the word “germane”, and was amused to observe that he himself used it three or four times, within the following five minutes - getting in practice, I guess, for the next managerial discussion at Head Office. It struck me that this man’s intellectual world was probably no less clearly circumscribed than that of the operators he deprecated, and was defined by “Managerspeak”, with a slightly larger --- but no less thought-stifling --- vocabulary than “Operatorspeak”.