Can This Foundation Revive the Lost Art of Creative Writing?

Kids these days. With the social media. And the texting. And the emojis. It's enough to make old timers fret for the state of the country, and even more alarmingly, the lost art of writing.

This pessimistic school of thought suggests that thanks to the proliferation of social media, "the kids" don't know how to write anymore. As a Washington Post opinion piece notes, the reason why Americans can't write is because no one is teaching them how to write. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just three percent were advanced. 

And if kids can't grasp the basics of grammar, sentence structure, and syntax, how can they write creatively? How can they understand character development, plot, conflict resolution, and so on?

Now we're getting really depressed.

Thankfully, the Penguin Random House Foundation is on the case. Its Creative Writing Competition for New York City high school seniors has awarded more than $2 million to students and their schools for original works in poetry, memoir, fiction, drama, and graphic novel since 1994. This year, the foundation will award over $100,000 in scholarships.

But it's one thing to teach kids creative writing in a one-off setting. It's another thing entirely to create a replicable curriculum that empowers public school teachers to keep the ball rolling. And so the foundation further supports student writers throughout the writing process with in-school programs and teacher training in over 50 city schools.

These "WRITE NOW!" workshops include teaching artists sharing their work with students and then leading the class in fun, accessible exercises that produce new writing on the spot. As a follow-up to the initial workshop, the sponsoring classroom teacher then receives a four-lesson plan that guides students to further flesh out and finish a piece for submission to the competition.

What's more, this program, now in its 22nd year, has achieved a rare feat: It has generated enthusiasm and buy-in from all the major players. Overworked teachers appreciate the guidance. The foundation notes that "administrators are eager for programs that will train teachers to provide opportunities for student-centered student writing — and that will keep school culture centered on creativity." And the kids, of course, love it.

To anyone familiar with the machinations of public school administration, this universal enthusiasm is more than a rare feat. It's a miracle.