Point of View: Students, teachers suffer from cuts to Writing Project

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

I grew up in a household that valued the written word.

I wrote short stories for fun. I read voraciously. I took a journal along on family vacations so that I could chronicle the details of memories I knew I would someday lose.

My mother is an elementary school teacher and an adjunct professor at a university back home who has always loved to teach the art of writing, encouraging me to write throughout my childhood and encouraging her students at school.

She finds ways to incorporate the skill as often as possible with her classes of fourth-graders, not only because they must be prepared for the annual state assessment (which, by the way, will soon require them to write an additional essay), but because she recognizes what an incredible (and essential) tool it is throughout life.

Her students write letters and keep journals. They celebrate the National Day on Writing, and share their work with others.

Last year, I received a paper sack filled with 3×5 note cards covered in handwritten poetry and pictures that her students had produced.

She is also a teacher and co-director of the East Texas Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project, which is a program that helps teachers and professors learn how to better teach and incorporate writing in their classrooms.

However, that program is currently suffering, thanks to severe federal funding cuts aimed at eliminating earmarks. Those funds — $25.6 million — provided for more than half of the program’s budget.

Some senators, such as Mary L. Landrieu from Louisiana, are speaking out on behalf of the program though, asserting that it should not be classified as an earmark. I have to agree.

The program is not superfluous; it benefits both teachers and students across all levels of education and helps to ensure that one of the most essential skills students can learn receives the attention it deserves.

Not all students grow up in households that value writing as mine did. And many students end up in classrooms where teachers shy away from the subject, simply not knowing how to teach it. Those students miss out on a vital part of their educational foundation.

They are not adequately prepared to write a research paper later on, or even a letter, be it to a friend or a future employer.

Educators must not be afraid of this skill; it is imperative that they not only demonstrate an ability to write, but that they are able to pass that ability on to their students.

Programs like the National Writing Project help teachers succeed in doing so.

That program allows teachers to learn from and with one another, with a focus on a skill that is largely neglected. It enables them to enthusiastically bring writing into their classrooms by giving them tools and techniques that make them comfortable with the subject.

To cut federal funding from such a program is to withdraw support from teachers who are trying to give their students the well-rounded education they are promised.

Without writing, it is sure that such an education simply cannot be achieved.

Sara Tirrito is a sophomore journalism major from Texarkana. She is a staff writer for the Lariat.