In 1985, as a young high school English teacher, I attended a National Writing Project (NWP) Invitational Summer Institute. Four intensive weeks changed my life—not because I was experiencing writing for the first time, but because I was experiencing a high-powered professional learning community with expectations for my continual growth and service. Soon after, the director called and arranged for me to teach other teachers in the county how to immerse students in poetry reading and writing. Within 5 years, I became a county-level literacy consultant and the director of the NWP site that launched me. In the years since, I’ve stepped away from writing project sites or networks, only to step right back in, up to my eyeballs. Whether deeply or tangentially engaged with NWP and its sites, I recognize that I carry the NWP model and mental map with me always, and it influences virtually everything I do.
My best friends are NWP teacher-leaders. I met my spouse of seventeen years at a NWP state network meeting. What I love about these folks—locally, across the state, and across the nation—is their passionate humility, which leads them forever into deeper learning. So it’s never all wrapped up in a neat little commercial package—it’s up-to-your elbows or deeper in messy, real learning, involving real schools, real challenges, and real students and their teachers.
Subsequently, in a host of professional circumstances, I’ve learned that, scratch the surface of nearly every worthy reform effort in education, and you’ll find NWP teacher-consultants—initiating or collaborating, rolling up shirtsleeves to make the good work happen. National Writing Project teacher-consultants and leaders are part of efforts such as the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the New Tech High School Network, the Coalition of Essential Schools, the Puente Project, the Algebra Project, Reading Apprenticeship, Teach for America, and many others. Wherever there are teachers gathered, aiming to improve schooling and to professionalize teaching, you’ll inevitably find writing project folks. It is a miracle—a scale-free human network of learning communities across all 50 states that supports and nudges professional growth for educators, pre-K-college. It’s a robust and resilient network, and yet, somewhat fragile—which is why I am horrified that our Congress and President have cut federal funding for it after a twenty-year, expanding bipartisan investment. It is possible to kill a national network, built over years—in fact, a way to do this would be to cut the funds that were catalyzing local and regional investments—exactly what the Congress has done.
It defies logic that our nation apparently has money to bail out the Wall Street bank robbers, and to finance three wars, while managing to cut funds which successfully leveraged both local and university investments, even in a time of great economic turmoil. It is beyond belief that, at the same time the Obama Administration claims to be pressing for improved educational outcomes and wants everyone to “race to the top,” our President would sign the bill that cuts federal funding for a group of highly professional teacher-leaders who often lead the charge for change. Words that come to mind to describe what is going on include these: betrayal, provocation, lunacy. The audacity of mendacity, Secretary Duncan. Don’t think we’ll forget in 2012. Please tell your boss. How could we believe that our government gives a damn about the young, the poor, the service-minded, when it sells out teacher-leaders in this fashion?