It was the summer of 1989, my eighteenth year as a teacher, when I first experienced the philosophy of the National Writing Project through the Maryland Writing Project’s Summer Institute, a program about the teaching of writing run by classroom teachers. Little did I realize how much that four-week institute would affect the rest of my teaching career. In my previous eighteen years I had had many inservice workshops, but none compared to that summer institute. Now twenty-two years later, what I learned then still helps me frame my objectives, activities, and expectations for my students. And my teaching has continued to benefit from my ongoing connection to teachers in the National Writing Project network.
Actually in 1989, I learned that the National Writing Project wasn’t much more than an office in California that published a monthly journal. But that office was the uniting force of a growing group of university-based sites run by classroom teachers at all educational levels who shared the philosophy that the best way for teachers to learn about the teaching of writing was from other teachers of writing.
But when the National Writing Project started to get funds from the national government and private foundations in the early 1990s, I was amazed at how a relatively small amount of money was strategically placed so that the teachers who benefitted from it were able to continue to spread the value of that investment as they gave presentations, ran inservice workshops, published teacher resources, participated in classroom inquiry projects, led study groups, and collaborated with colleagues across the street and around the country. The money allowed the National Writing Project to successfully institute programs on a national scale to support teachers in areas where economic and social status often meant neglect. Outreach programs and initiatives reached to teachers in inner cities, teachers of English language learners, teachers in isolated rural areas. Initiatives helped teachers learn how to use the power of 21st century technologies to engage “plugged-in” youth in meaningful expression of thought using today’s varied modes of communication.
Now, as we face the dismantling of much of an amazingly successful national organization designed to help teachers continue to improve their practice, it’s hard to imagine the full effect of this development. While this is not the end of the National Writing Project per se, the cutting of its national programs and initiatives will certainly end its reach into areas where it has successfully influenced the practice of teachers who would otherwise have been on their own. Also, some local Writing Project sites will be forced to close, particularly the newer ones that have benefitted from site grants designed to help them establish footholds in their communities. What does this say about the priorities of government leaders who have allowed this to happen? Certainly investing in literacy education is not one of those priorities.