Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Must I Write Congress?

I never know what to write when NCTE sends out reminders to write to our legislators. Here I am a writing teacher, and I can’t write. It’s not that I can’t think of anything to praise or criticize about the state of education in America. Of course, I can think of things. I just feel stymied as I try to compose. Writing to Congress seems like such a huge responsibility. How can someone like me explain to representatives whom I’ve never met why English language arts matter?

It’s very easy. NCTE provides sample email messages. All I really have to do is cut and paste them, and I’ve written Congress. Tips for phone calls are also available. All I’d need to do is dial a phone number and begin with the information on the Tips page. Making the process easier doesn’t completely explain why I must write Congress though.

NCTE has established positions on the following issues. Reading them not only gives me background information but also helps me realize why these positions are important.

NCTE provides me with the information I need to know. That essentially eliminates any excuse I have about not knowing enough—and tells me why these issues are important.

So must I write Congress? Yes. It matters to the profession and to the lives of the students we all teach. I can, of course, write my own, more personal message to my representatives, but I don’t have to. Writing to the policymakers in this country is as simple as copying and pasting.

I no longer have any excuses. What about you? I challenge you to at least copy and paste an email message to one representative and report back here via the comments. Let’s see how many of us are willing to help do what it takes to improve education in the United States.


Greta said...

While I appreciate the importance of writing to Congress on numerous issues, I have to take exception to the advice given in this message from Traci Gardner. She seems to be advocating a somewhat cynical approach to engagement - you don't have to know much, you let the organization decide what's critical and you cut and paste their words, and just hit send. How hard is that? I invite you to consider her advice, as if we were giving it to our students (my changes in brackets]:

[WIKIPEDIA] provides me with the information I need to know. That essentially eliminates any excuse I have about not knowing enough—[MY TEACHER] tells me why these issues are important.

(..._. I can, of course, write my own, more personal [ESSAY] to my [TEACHER}, but I don’t have to. Writing [AN ESSAY FOR THIS CLASS] is as simple as copying and pasting.

I realize this is extreme, and perhaps a bit unfair, but the underlying premise seems to be that we're too busy to decide on our own, and to inform ourselves adequately, so let NCTE do it and simply cut and paste. For teachers of engaged, thoughtful writing, that appears to be a very contradictory message to me!

Greta Vollmer
Sonoma State University

Barbara Cambridge said...

I read Traci's advice differently from you, Greta. I read that a member can use NCTE's member-generated positions as the basis for an email, either by using an already extant email text that is based on those positions or, of course, by writing from the individual's experience. The latter is more powerful because legislators tend to value stories and ideas from individual teachers. If the choice is writing or not writing to legislators, however, I think Traci is saying that a message whose text is legitimate because it is based on member-generated positions is better sent than no message at all.

I hope that you have written your legislator(s) based on what you have researched if you feel that a prepared text is not legitimate. As someone working in Washington with legislators who do listen to constituents, I know that your legislators will appreciate your effort.