Why is there this widespread, seemingly historically durable perception that young people can't write? Does someone benefit from this narrative?
Writing teachers have long emphasized in their classes: writing is not a magic act but recursive intellectual labor, a practice—not pure inspiration.
A lot of this is a notion that when students arrive at school, be it high school or college, they are defective. They are somehow falling short of what we wish them to be, and the role of the school is to turn them into something that isn't defective. When we say young people can't write, it usually means they are unfamiliar with writing that influences attitudes and challenges the reader. Students are judged lacking, which is not surprising, because these formal genres are something students haven't done before. If I asked a highly proficient secondary or tertiary teacher to write something they have never done before, we would probably look at the results and say, wow, that person really can't write.
Lack of familiarity and lack of practice are unfairly confused with lack of ability. There's a unique role in writing classes regarding students' intellectual development. Writing courses or classes are an opportunity to ask students to apply critical thinking that will serve them well regardless of their field of interest or the profession they pursue. I want to introduce them to a way of processing the world through what I call the writer's practice: the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and habits-of-mind of writers. In many places, the resources dedicated to something like first-year composition are incredibly limited; sometimes, we have the least experienced instructors teaching or perhaps the lowest-paid instructors. That is upside down, back to front, and inside out. First-year writing is a fundamental class that qualifies as one of the most important classes. First-year composition should be the gateway to everything that comes next.
We should embrace the notion that college is not a privilege of the wealthy and that a life of intellectual growth and opportunity is worth securing for everybody. We allow the Education industry to get away keeping tertiary studies as an elitist pursuit which is just un-Democratic. What is happening in colleges and universities and higher education is really no different from wealth inequality writ large in society. And that inequality to me cannot be justified: it is a denial of opportunity to individuals simply because they didn't have the good fortune of being born into wealth, or as Warren Buffet would say, "they didn't win the womb lottery."