The tasks facing education reform are far too urgent to be left to policy experts, politicians, or market forces. Starting this year, we at the Open Society Education Support Program are attempting to broaden the discussion of justice in education through culture. The first of these initiatives is a collection of essays from Writers Bloc, a collective of celebrated and up-and-coming writers. They include Chimamanda Adiche (writing on Nigeria) and Aleksander Hemon (on Bosnia)—both are recipients of MacArthur Foundation “genius grants”—as well as Tahmima Anam (on Bangladesh), Petina Guppah (on Zimbabwe), Nathalie Handal (on Haiti), Rachel Holmes (on Palestine), Nick Laird (on Nepal), Kamila Shamsie (on Pakistan), Hardeep Sing Kholi (on India), and Zukisa Wanner (on South Africa). Acclaimed novelist and critic Zadie Smith, who is a trustee of Writers Bloc, wrote the introduction to the series.
In the first piece of the series, published today in the magazine Guernica, Nathalie Handal visits Haiti a year after its devastating earthquake. Every day for the next week, another of the essays will appear. Recently named by Esquire as one of the top five online literary magazines, Guernica has an impressive list of awards and nominations to its name—the magazine and its contributors have won or been nominated for PEN awards, Best American Essays, The Caine Prize, The Orwell Prize, and Best of the Net. The political reach of Guernica is also considerable—in the past, its articles have been discussed in the Indian parliament and drawn the attention of members of the U.S. Congress.
A launch and panel discussion event takes place at the Free Word Centre in London on January 17. It will be livestreamed, and viewers can send questions and comments via Twitter. The Free Word Centre is an international hub where organizations such as the Reading Agency, Index on Censorship, and EnglishPEN are based, and where literature, literacy, and free expression come together. You can read more about the Writers Bloc project in this interview with Kamila Shamsie.
In an introduction to the essay collection, Zadie Smith writes “it’s not likely a government will listen to a bunch of writers, but a bunch of writers can bend many interested civilian ears.” She points to a problem far more fundamental than what may be said and who may be listening; one to which we have become inured. The essays in the collection show education in conflict-affected countries to be a catastrophe for so many children—entirely absent or substandard, deteriorating and disconnected, stifling and conforming, violent and discriminating, unequal and unfair—with consequences that will be long and deep for all of society. The essays convey a reality that will “bend interested civilian ears”; they are a call to action for everyone.