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Leadership and Activism

An Idea

There’s the infrastructure. And then there’s the idea.

The Internet is like this. The infrastructure consists of nodes and super nodes, of cable, routers, switches, of computers and hyper-text markup language. But it’s also an idea: a distributed network of information-sharing and, ultimately, an interactive “World Wide Web” of human creativity.

When Hosni Mubarak recently pulled the kill switch on the Internet in Egypt, he shut down the infrastructure. However, that did not effectively silence the protests or protesters. Around the world, support was provided to help the Egyptian people find work-arounds for the dissemination of information until, after five days, Mubarak bowed to pressure and turned the Internet back on.

The democratic impulse, the desire for many voices to be heard, can wield incredible power.

The National Writing Project is also an infrastructure. More than 200 local writing project sites, each one connected as a partner to a college or university, managed by K-12 educators who nurture an intellectual home for themselves. A national network of programs that focus on particular areas of need or interest, such as teachers who work with English language learners, or who have an interest in digital literacy, or who work in urban schools. Initiatives like the Carnegie-funded Reading Initiative or the MacArthur-funded Digital Is project. And in all cases, it is educators, K through university, who are leading the work, examining their own practice, living in conversation with one another, building resources.

But NWP is also an idea. An idea, sometimes succinctly put as “Teachers teaching teachers.” It’s the idea that educators have knowledge and expertise, that they are continually building that knowledge and expertise, and that their voices should and do count. The idea that local context matters, but also that it’s possible to find common ground – through reflection and, most importantly, writing – across our nation. The idea that inquiry, rather than orthodoxy, is the vehicle that leads to improvement and innovation. The idea that becoming better teachers of writing means giving our students the agency to use literacy tools such as reading and writing to understand and create their own narratives, tools that will help them become full and knowledgeable participants in our democracy.

The elimination of dollars in the federal budget for the NWP may be seen, in worst-case-scenario thinking, as analagous to a kill switch for the National Writing Project’s infrastructure. But the idea, which I know with certainty has staying power, will continue.

If you doubt this, just look at the archive of educators who are blogging in support of the NWP this weekend. Their stories are stories of voice and leadership and transformation. Being distributed via the web.

No kill switch exists that can turn back the tide of this powerful idea, made manifest this weekend.


About Paul Oh

I'm an educator, writer, sometime runner and soon-to-be dad. I work for the National Writing Project and get a chance to design, play, create and learn with other adults and, when I'm lucky, with kids.


5 thoughts on “An Idea

  1. Well said. We shall overcome. NWP means too much to too many people. As you stated, ideas as important as NWP will not go away.

    Posted by janelleqb | March 19, 2011, 4:02 pm
  2. I think this is a perfect analogy, Paul, and so clearly explained. Thank you for keeping (and spreading) heart.

    Posted by Joyce Sheehey | March 27, 2011, 11:23 am


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