Director, Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark
The Oregon Writing Project helps current teachers become better writers. Why is that important?
The program is about teaching writing but it’s also about grounding the writing in student’s lives. It’s about making sure the students’ families, their histories, their language, their religions—who they are as people—are part of the curriculum. As much as we teach writing, we also teach the world. Part of it is getting students to occupy their own space in the world, both teachers and students. It’s learning to analyze or critique the world the way it is and understand how it go to be that way. It’s about reading history and going into the past to understand why there is poverty today.
Tell us something surprising about what it means to be a teacher.
One of the greatest falsehoods in education is that some students are brighter than others. Some students have had greater experiences that mimic what education traditionally looks like and so they come in more well prepared to do traditional schoolwork. Yet other students have equal amounts of brilliance that aren’t seen by schools. One of the greatest things a teacher can do is allow that brilliance to come up, parade it out for the student to see and to own, to create confidence. So that they know it was a crock that nobody believed they were brilliant before.
It’s also helping students understand that both school and the world are public commons and that they have the right to occupy a piece of real estate in the public commons. They have a right to their own voice and to be able to talk back to things that they see that are unfair.