I know times are tough and that everyone is going to have to tighten his or her financial belt a little in the coming years if our country is to remain solvent and prosperous. Therefore, as a fiscal conservative, I am normally all for the cutting of programs that are wasteful and produce nothing beneficial for the country, and I’ll be the first to admit there are arts based programs out there that are either wasteful or, in the case of PBS and NPR, are profit-making entities that no longer need our tax dollars to thrive. The National Writing Project, however, is not one of those. I attended this summer institute in 2001 when I was a first year teacher with a head full of ideas and a zen passion for writing and reading, and I later returned as a presenter, a technology liaison, and a writing group leader. Performing all those functions, I was able to put the lessons I’d learned after another year of teaching back into the program in order to help teachers both newer and younger than myself grow in the profession.
The Blackwater Writing Project, the branch I worked with, was amazingly responsible with its funding and found ways to save money and use it effectively at all points during the summer institutes. This is the kind of behavior that should be rewarded rather than slated for the chopping block like all other wasteful programs. Also, unlike so many programs funded by tax dollars, the NWP actually provided results for teachers and their students. It encouraged writing across the disciplines and allowed writing teachers the chance to directly instruct those who are experts in science, math, history, and other fields on the best methods for including writing in their classrooms. Rather than generic lessons given by a state or federal training program, teachers who wanted to do a better job in their classrooms were given specific instruction from teachers who had tried new techniques in classrooms much like theirs. The instruction was targeted and practical, and after a two-week period in the NWP, many “non-English” teachers have begun to utilize writing and enhance student learning with it.
I recently found an op-ed piece by Dana Giola at the Boston Globe regarding the importance of reading and writing and its decline in the teenage population of this country. She touches on several key benefits of literacy and writing including increased problem solving skills, increased creativity, and even increased social and civic awareness and participation. It seems obvious, therefore, that students must be told about the importance of reading and writing to their overall education, but without programs like the NWP, teachers will be ill-equipped to show students just how essential and beneficial both truly are. If we have a passion for it, it comes through in what we do. Students see it, and whether or not they admit to this truth, they respond to it. The NWP helps teachers gain that confidence and joy that is needed to motivate students in this new electronic age, and, for that reason alone, it should be given continued funding.
On a personal note, the first summer I spent in the NWP sparked a fire for creative writing in my life. Because of the support and guidance I received from amazing teachers like Dr. Donna Sewell, Dr. Chere Peguesse, and Mr. Adam Hathaway of the Blackwater Writing Project, I began to write, and I have continued to progress in that area ever since. I am now currently working on a novel of my own, I teach creative writing classes to students and adults in my area, and I participate in online writing groups such as The Herscher Project, a group of fellow scribblers from around the world who support one another in their literary and artistic endeavors. I might never have known that part of me was there had it not been for the Blackwater Writing Project at Valdosta State University.
In short, I am a firm believer in accountability, and I’ll be the first to run through the 2011 federal budget with a machete in an attempt to bring our country back to financial solvency. However, to say that all of the programs out there that relate to the arts or eduction need to be cut is not the best way to spend our money wisely. The National Writing Project, and several other programs like it, deserve continued funding and support from communities and the government in order to continue preparing teachers, those people on the front lines who have the best chance of creating productive and thoughtful citizens for the future.