Advancing Education Reform with “Writers Bloc”

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.

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excellent information and it's exciting to see such an online forum generated where writers can contribute and make a difference to the debate.

In Guyana South America, an English speaking,Commonwealth country aligned politically to other countries in the Caribbean (Caricom) we are faced with very grave educational problems that needs civic society's intervention. Our organisation Black Chant Publishers of which I am Executive Director is presently engaged in addressing this important issue that affects the 'at-risk' youth of society. We support and seek to be part and parcel of Educational Reform, which is a necessity especially in our country tortured by the proliferation of drug trans shipment and sales. For us this is a priority.

I am so looking forward to reading these works! I am the co-founder of The Mothers' Agenda NY (aka The MANY), a grassroots education advocacy group comprised of low-income mothers of color in the throes of battle with the NYC public school system. Our enemy is a massive $23 billion dollar bureaucracy controlled by one man-- our billionaire, out of touch mayor-- and the system is failing over a million children and killing the dreams and aspirations we mothers have for our sons and daughters. Ours are the children of the underclass and working poor who are being taught in a racist, segregated, apartheid system that unmistakably hates them. . . and us for speaking out and demanding better. Although I write from a world class city, public education here is anything but. It will be very interesting for us to learn more about the parallel plights and government sanctioned obstacles to learning and uplifting the very lives of children, families, communities and whole society through education that our overseas sisters and brothers face. I do believe that their priorities are ours as well: for our children to have opportunities and to live a better life.

As both a storyteller and a development specialist in the four corners of the world, I find the initiative intriguing. I recently wrote about it at my own site and am now devouring the stories the writers brought to us. Thank you for planting a seed of ideas...

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