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Pen may be mighter than the sword, but not the federal budget

2576-1275491944laKRPersuasive writing, technical writing, creative writing, journalism—all have their place in education and are useful in different capacities. Yet, students across all fields of learning must develop basic writing skills in order to excel and communicate effectively.

So why then, did President Obama sign a bill to cut all federal funding to the National Writing Project earlier this month? This all-encompassing program is devoted to teacher development and strengthening writing skills across subjects for students at all grade levels.

The NWP’s 2009 annual survey reports that throughout the nation, program sites (see pages 12-15) are set up on the campuses of over 200 colleges and universities, with over 70,000 teachers serving the program’s objectives. Each year,  1. 4 million students and 130,000 teachers gain academic and professional development through the NWP.

It’s by no means a small program, and results have continuously showed that enrolled students displayed an improvement in basic writing skills by the end. In NWP’s 2010 study , about 92 percent of the NWP students surveyed across seven states showed higher increases in writing achievement than peers who had not participated in the program.

Along with critical thinking and reading skills, writing development is pivotal to a good education and serves as preparation for nearly all careers. Although some college students may joke and say—”I’m an engineering major…I no write good,” it is well known that the importance of writing spans all disciplines, not just the humanities.

English majors may engage in rhetoric and analytical writing, while math and science students will utilize more technical writing to explore theories and report experiment results. The common theme is that writing is used as a medium to communicate in each and every academic subject. Our language is as versatile as all the academic realms in which it plays an indispensible role (aka– all of them).

Writing is a format in which ideas become immortal. The spoken word is powerful, but fleeting. Written records must be structured and clear because they are a form of continuous communication. Several decades from now, educators should be able to read past reports in their fields and be able to access the messages. If the writing is sloppy or muddled, critical concepts could be lost over time.

The National Commission on Writing, a segment of the CollegeBoard Advocacy & Policy Center and a collaborator with the National Writing Project, writes that writing levels in the U.S. are too low and “writing is critical,” not only academically, but practically.

Just as one middle school teacher noted in The Huffington Post, writing skills are imperative for day to day living—at school and work and for personal communication. Just try to get through the week without writing an email or communicating with a roommate through a sticky-note.

Even more tellingly—much “personal communication” in our digital age has a heavy emphasis on improper English, abbreviations and obnoxious misspellings. In the dawn of “LOL roflcopter” and “omg luv U2,” it is more vital than ever that teachers are trained to help students set high standards for accomplishments in professional and academic writing. Students need to learn the basics of formal writing in order to succeed in college and the career realm.

 “NWP Works!” a call to action for those invested in keeping this program intact, suggests that citizens write leaders to government officials stressing the effectiveness of NWP and the costs of the program’s discontinuation.

Melissa Major, Spring Intern

Naomi Dillon|March 16th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , , |


  1. Maureen says:

    NWP has been a major force in supporting excellent practice in the teaching of writing. It is hard to imagine another organization so helpful and supportive of both teachers and students. Some of the finest teachers I know have benefitted from being a part of this program, including the wonderful folks in South Carolina, and my friend Carol Tateishi, who is the director of the Bay Area Writing Project and who now runs a project in South Korea every summer. NWP helps teachers write, learn, and grow as professionals, resulting in millions of students’ seeing themselves as writers. Writing has flourished in ways it never would have absent NWP. It will be a real travesty if funding is lost.

    After all, George Orwell said, “If you can’t write, you can’t think, and if you can’t think, others will do your thinking for you.” Is it possible that the powers that be do not want a thinking citizenry?

    Great article. Hats off to Melissa Major! I hope she will follow up with more information on what’s happening with all the proposed budget cuts in education.

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