Writers in Electronic Residence

Writers in Electronic Residence is a phenomenal program, founded by Trevor Owen, that has been running in Canada since 1988. The program links published authors with student writers in electronic salons where writers get feedback on their work and can communicate with other students and their professional counterparts. One of the authors, Susan Musgrave, describes WIER better than I ever could.

“One of the best reviews I ever received of a poetry reading I gave, in a high school on Vancouver Island, was, “Susan Musgrave has made me hate poetry a little less.”

I didn’t have the patience or the staying power to finish high school myself. I dropped out, or rather; I rose up, as I like to think about it, in 10th grade. I was bored, disconnected with my mind and connected with another appetite: I sought to end my boredom by trying to raise my consciousness through the use of mind-expanding drugs such as LSD.

“Just because your kids are being schooled doesn’t mean they’re being educated.” wrote the renegade American teacher John Taylor Gatto, in an op ed-piece in the Wall Street Journal. “I’ve come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: a curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, , disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in”. Gatto’s famous response to winning the New York State Teacher of the Year Award in 1991 was to quit. He didn’t want to “hurt kids” anymore.

“There is genius in every child”, he declares, in an article published in High Times, a magazine celebrating freedom and the right to smoke pot, and probably not found in your particular school’s library. “But it hardly ever re-grows once it is stomped out. Schools turn out incomplete people, people that have to be connected to some other source of meaning because they can’t generate meaning from inside.

The mass of kids learn, quite deliberately, to be bored. There is a reason for that. The truth is that bored people detach from their minds and connect with their appetites. They’re desperately searching for something to put in their mouths, or to kiss, or throw rocks at, or kill. Bored people aren’t competition. They don’t gather together and form organizations to overthrow the leadership. They’re seeking some kind of solace and relief from their boredom, so they become the most dependable customers of all.”

What am I getting at here? That teenagers (like myself and many others) are not wrong to rebel against school where they are warehoused in cell-block-style classrooms five days a week for twelve years, force-fed a standardized diet of what someone else determines they need to learn, reinforced with gold stars, tests, and grades. We were, and are, fighting for our lives, and – certainly when I was in school – we weren’t offered a lot of alternatives to the boringly predictable lessons – how to shut our books and move when the bell rang, how to spend our time, how to behave, what to read, and, to a large extent, what to think.

If I had a program such as WIER, where every and, if and but I wrote was scrutinized by a professional writer who took the time to pay attention to my immortal (and, okay, a few forgettable) words, I might have had a reason to tough it out in school. To be taken seriously is not something we are used to, alas, these days. To listen to someone, to really hear what they say, is perhaps the greatest act of love.

When WIER ends for me I always go through a time of feeling lost. Once I have been connected it’s hard to go back to working in isolation again. When WEIR ends each term I also feel I know a little more about other people who share my concerns and feelings – all the student writers who bravely post their work online. This means you – voices of tomorrow!

As I have worked online I have felt a great responsibility – to encourage, inspire, entertain, to provide a forum where students can speak honestly and passionately about whatever their hearts desire. I like to think that when students graduate and have gone on to do whatever it is they do with their lives, they will look back on WIER as one program that gave them pleasure and increased their lives. Or, at the very least, helped them to hate poetry a little less.”

Susan Musgrave
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
June 2005

Here are some links for you to learn about the program:

Research

What People Say About WIER

Listen to WIER Student Poetry

I propose we begin to use this program, to connect to our students, to take them seriously, to listen to them, and to help them find themselves at last, in the beauty of feeling and of writing.

pete

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