Recently I set out to use Twitter in an attempt to save a band from their own fans. My efforts were in vain, but as I watched people read and “retweet” my work I realized that I had just used a very powerful weapon: the written word. As I thought about this weapon I came to wonder if others were as aware as I was that the ability to communicate our ideas was such a superpower. So I asked around and…
I was very disappointed.
To my dismay all too many of my peers do not find writing (or even reading) a useful skill. But, I was inspired to try again.
First, let’s take a moment to think about words. Words have been around for as long as history itself, and that is not an exaggeration. Without words, we would have no written records, and after all is that not, by definition, what history is?
Writing, which began through the Sumerian culture, is the primary form of communication through the ages. Consider this, through written records we have been able to see almost exactly what life was like in the past. Perfect examples of this are diaries, laws, the Bible, and even Shakespearean plays; through these mediums we have been allowed a window to the past.
“The spreading of ideas,” says world history teacher, Coach Martin, “past and present, is the central aspect of civilization…it allows for trade…it’s a founding principle of economics…if it never developed the world would be drastically different. Everything we have today is the result of some sort of printed medium.”
Absolutely right, Coach Martin. In fact, a world without communication is “so hard to imagine,” according to Ms. Mion, American government teacher, “I just feel like there would be a way to communicate,” she says.
Of course, there are a million different ways to communicate, as taught to me by Ms. Campos’ Special Education class .I had the privilege of meeting some of these students, and they showed me just exactly how our world has given them the ability to communicate efficiently and precisely.
“Most of my students are nonverbal,” says Ms. Campos. “So they use devices…when they do [use the devices] it gives them a little independence…so you can imagine if she can press a button for ‘I want to read a book’ it’s more independent than for her to sit and stare at something across the room and maybe not get it.”
The students use a variety of communicative forms from clapping to squealing to pressing buttons to even using iPads.
“You want them to be an engaged learner and that’s one thing we find more and more with assistive technology. Technology helps them,” Ms. Campos later comments.
And where would we be without technology and progress? So as long as we have technology we do not need to exercise reading and writing, right?
Wrong. After all, must great minds not communicate their ideas? Ms. Mion puts this into a government persepective when she says “Reagan and Clinton were good communicators; they could ‘break it down,’ whereas Obama is a powerful speech giver, but those two are not the same.”
So then what happens if we aren’t good communicators, Ms. Mion?
“When you lack communication,” she says, “you don’t have progress, and you can see that now in the deadlock we have in the government.”
In a world where we cannot communicate our ideas, we would be in a social deadlock. Without a way to relay thoughts and share ideas there would be no innovations, no forward movement.
The ability to communicate rests on the ability to read and write. The two compliment and build each other, and not a single human lives a day without feeling the reverberations of the written word. To put something down on paper is to make it real, and make it permanent.
“You can lie to yourself all day,” says English and Yearbook teacher, Mr. Hearn. “But the moment you write something, it’s been said.”
Writing gives us a way to organize ourselves by organizing our thoughts, and for those visual learners that is a huge deal. Writing makes a nebulous thought into a tangible, visible object.
“Without the ability to communicate, to express yourself, to write clearly, you become trapped in your head. You can’t even form ideas,” says Mr. Hearn.
How many of us have felt trapped and overcome by these thoughts running rampant in our minds? The ability to think let alone organize is a blessing, should we not take advantage of it? Sometimes we first must be trapped to see the fact that there is another form of freedom available to us.
In an example provided by Mr. Hearn: “It was Malcom X who wrote that it wasn’t until he began to learn to read and write that he became free. He was sitting in prison, and he said he never felt so free in his life. So people who say that reading and writing aren’t important, they’re dooming themselves their own imprisonment.”
Now it’s high time that the doomed break out of jail. The problem, here, is not the educational system, because as we can see from these quotations Northside’s staff is not short in stressing the importance of writing; and this is just a small portion of teachers speaking.
“I stress to my students their ability to express themselves and their ideas clearly,” states Coach Martin.
“I start every class with student responses,” says Ms. Mion.
So with the teachers doing their part, what is going wrong? Why the sudden decline in the belief that reading and writing is important? The students have lost interest. So it is up to us, the readers and writers, to lead by example.
I believe that if we can get a large enough portion of the student population to read and write as a daily exercise we can spread this to other students, and the written word will sweep through like an epidemic, engrossing the minds of young people everywhere. So where do we start?
Reading. And what will reading do?
“What reading does is it opens your mind to ideas…reading gives you what you’re going to write about. It exposes you to ideas; to perspectives…it sounds cliché but, to worlds you couldn’t imagine otherwise.”
Thank you, Mr. Hearn.
Reading gets us to think, it gives us inspiration. Students sometimes lack confidence in their ideas. They wonder if it’s good enough or call themselves a “bad writer.” But who is going to judge what is written? The pen? The paper? Oh that’s right, nobody. A “bad writer” is essentially a lie. A “bad writer” has never truly tested their abilities.
“And you lie to yourself,” says Mr. Hearn. “And you say that you don’t have anything to think. Then suddenly you start writing and you realize that you’ve tapped into all these things that were buried.”
Writing is a waterfall, it’s active and alive and once it has been cut loose it is hard to restrain. So I’m closing out with a few points to think about.
Writing and reading is the foundation of civilization. Without it we would stop dead in our tracks. We can change the world with it, and every day we take this blessing of being able to sit down and write, or even to speak, for granted. Consider Ms. Campos’ students.
“…for our kids the ability to ask for the simplest thing is…amazing.”
That isn’t meant to inspire pity, either. That is meant to inspire a readiness to learn, to read, to speak, confess, write, and inspire someone else. We need to get the message of writing out of our heads, off of the paper, and into the world. So after you finish this article go; create; inspire.
“The way you express yourself, communication, language is what truly grants your freedom,” (Hearn).
Be free, write, and above all: spread the word.