“When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” said the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in his 1963 eulogy of the poet Robert Frost. “For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
Two generations later, in 2020, the world openly reckoned with power, corruption, truth, and judgment. No one witnessed that year with clearer eyes than Generation Z. Coming of age just when a deadly virus disrupted life across continents, Gen Z’s desire to explore and engage with the world was thwarted by forced isolation. Predictable pathways were replaced by uncertainty and fear. In the United States, the murder of George Floyd reenergized the Black Lives Matter movement and millions took to the streets to advocate for racial equality. In India, the brutal killing of a young Dalit woman triggered nationwide protests decrying caste-based violence against women. And the world watched as the United States endured a tortured election season in which “power” and “judgment” hung in precarious balance. From climate change to voting rights and more, young people raised their voices to speak out, even while quarantined in their homes.
The young writers at Write the World captured this 2020 turmoil in writing. As the dust settles on that year, their writings reveal – in real time - how unprecedented events impacted the generation expected to step up and solve the global problems ahead. In 2019, never imagining the year that would soon unfold, Write the World developed a civics writing program called Civics in Action. The program was led by Billie Fitzpatrick (Chief Learning Strategist) and Brittany Collins (Teaching & Learning Coordinator) in partnership with Facing History & Ourselves, Parentology, and the National Children’s Campaign. For ten months, from April 2020 to January 2021, a dedicated cohort of over twenty young writers, ages 15 to 18, from numerous countries, participated in synchronous writing programming on civics topics. The students studied journalism and critical thinking, and produced over 100 unique pieces in response to 28 robust prompts spanning genres from opinion editorials to reportage, letters to the editor to speechwriting, portraiture to cultural critique, narrative nonfiction, and more. Throughout 2020, their works were disseminated in monthly broadcasts and re-posted in the Youth Voices column on Parentology.com, engaging readers of all ages and provoking thought on critical issues such as: intergenerational connection, global citizenship, racial equity, community activism, voting rights, democracy, and healthcare.
This edition of Write the World Review curates notable pieces from the Civics in Action program. The writings illuminate how teens’ words met this historic moment and continued the indispensable role of each new generation: to envision a better world and work collectively to make it happen. The task can feel humbling (Rani Chor from the US writes, “But during that post-rally rush, even I have to admit that there is a nagging question in the back of my mind: Is this going to change anything?”). Undaunted, teens embrace the challenge with persistence and hope (“We can start provoking real change in many spaces, in many ways. We can lobby people in positions of power,” Amy Nam from Canada reminds us. They do so with sincere recognition of those who inspired them; the continuum of elders, mentors, professors, beloved tutors, an 89-year-old neighbor, an immigrant grandfather, and many others whose positive energy they perpetuate.
As you explore this curation, take a breath to recognize the distance we’ve traveled from 2020. The noise we still hear. The fears and uncertainties we still face. Hear the perspectives of these young writers and the depth of research that supports their advocacy. Appreciate how their craft of writing distills and communicates “human values” and thus converts them into “a touchstone,” to invoke JFK’s words, that guide our path to a better tomorrow. If you're a teacher, I invite you to take a look at our Reflection Questions, to help guide further discussion around these critical issues in your classroom.
- David Weinstein, Founder, Write the World LLC