I've been avoiding this thread because I knew that reading it put me at risk of going on a full-blown rant, which is something I don't have time for at the moment.
I will make two points. First, phonics are great for kids who learn that way (I didn't), but the tradition of teaching them--or not--is not solely responsible for the writing skills among Americans. Neither are the schools, for that matter.
Want to know what's killing American writing skills?
1. People have gotten (and yes, that's a word) out of the habit of reading, and when you don't read, you don't have the same intuitive ability to recognize proper spelling and grammar. It's the simple fact that nobody wants to face up to.
Which brings me to my next point:
2. Americans (although I see the same trends occurring across the Atlantic) don't write well because they don't CARE.
It's not the schools' fault. The schools can only do the best they can in the five or six hours they have each day to work with these kids. In general, however, they're working with the most apathetic minds imaginable, and that's reinforced AT
HOME. Want to know why Johnny can't write? Johnny, and his parents--don't understand that this nation is going to be so handicapped by its collective lack of writing skills that we will have--probably in my lifetime--an elite class of scribes who will be the only people capable of communicating well enough to draft a law or read a contract carefully. Instead, Johnny's parents come home after their 50-hour workweek, turn on the T.V. instead of picking up a book, and are themselves unable to recognize coherent prose, much less understand why it's important. They not only DON'T help Johnny with his writing homework... they CAN
I'm sorry... I know it must sound as though I've gone stark raving mad, but this drives me absolutely nuts. I've spent the last twelve years of my life working in marketing communications, and a major part of my job has involved expending massive amounts of effort in order to transform poorly-written prose into comprehensible English. The saddest part about it all? Almost without exception, this was written by people who held college degrees. If our college graduates don't feel it's important to be able to communicate effectively, who will?
Okay... ... end of rant.