by LAURA HAMBY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & urn on the evening news. Between the lighthearted analyses of the lead-based paint coating the walls of your perfect -- albeit foreclosed -- home and the child molester who lives within walking distance of it, you are bound to hear a description of the dire state of literacy in our country. We are producing a passive and lackluster generation incapable of sitting down and reading a book or writing intelligibly. This is understandable, the anchor informs us, because our children have the attention span of hummingbirds. Worried for future generations, we ask, "WTF happened?"
"IDK," comes one response. "The Internet?"
A 2007 study by the & lt;a href="http://www.nea.gov" target="_new" & National Endowment for the Arts & lt;/a & told a familiar refrain: a marked decline in reading and a corresponding fall in other areas of academic achievement. The usual suspects were cited, from the digital distractions of technological media to the failure of our schools to nurture habits of reading and writing.
Historian David McCullough echoed these findings. In a speech at Boston College, he decried the savaged state of language and learning at the hands of a technologically savvy but ultimately lazy generation.
Into this breach falls the 25th anniversary of the Whitworth & lt;a href="http://www.thewritingrally.org" target="_new" & Writing Rally & lt;/a & , an event focused on coaxing children to write and to actually have fun doing it. The Rally was originally developed with certain goals in mind: It would expose children, regardless of their socio-economic status, to real live writers, and it would give them time to write in an open and stimulating environment while also giving them one-on-one time with their parents. With schools standardizing their curricula and emphasizing assessment, the Rally would serve as a counterbalance, placing an emphasis on creativity and self-expression.
So how has the Rally fared against the blast of multimedia stimuli that kids enjoy today? Would they actually choose to spend a Saturday writing with their parents? Or would they prefer interacting with the family they've generated on their Wiis?
When I approached Lisa Laurier, director of the Writing Rally, with bleak scenarios of kids' lack of interest in reading and writing, she was nonplussed, stating, "Reading and writing ... will always be the way we transmit our history, our cultural values." At the same time, she cautioned about the need to be aware of 21st-century skills that kids now identify as a part of their culture.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & igression: In 1989, I attended the Whitworth Writing Rally. With the help of my dad, I crafted my masterpiece, Dinosaur Land -- a serious inquiry into the demise of prehistoric life. I still have it, along with my T-shirt from the event. An avid reader from early on, I was in many ways an easy sell for Writing Rally: the type of kid who scrambled to be the one to sit in our class's Reading Rocket during recess, who looked forward to reading drives and book fairs with irrepressible enthusiasm, a kid who would view a children's book author as a sort of descended god or rock star.
That was me, though it was, urgh, almost 20 years ago. The consumer technologies that now dominate our culture were still in their early stages: SimCity had just been unveiled, the Super Nintendo was still in the works, and cellular phones were the size of an Air Jordan sneaker. Now that kids have MySpace, iPods, text messaging and the Wii to compete against, are reading and writing truly going to pot -- or, more aptly, to Pod?
Perhaps not, and the Rally provides some anecdotal evidence. Since its founding, it has attracted more than 800 children annually, building vital networks between students of education, seasoned educators, parents and kids. Its formula is largely unchanged: an hour-long presentation by a celebrated children's book author, followed by three hours of writing during which children work one-on-one with parents and rally volunteers to produce their own book. Kids go home with a T-shirt, an original work of writing, and the bonding experience of time with Mom or Dad, all for $17. Incredibly, according to Laurier, after three hours of work, the kids' chief complaint is that they wished they had more time.
Obviously there are obstacles to our producing young readers and writers who actually enjoy those activities. Children are viewed, now more than ever, as an incredibly lucrative market for technological gadgetry and are courted as such. Advertisers and toy manufacturers have some advantage over parents and educators, possessing millions of dollars at their disposal for research, development and marketing.
But that advantage is not insurmountable. Perhaps events such as the Writing Rally are sustainable because they offer kids sustenance from the core of our culture, below the technological epidermis -- not to mention some time with Mom or Dad and a good story. That's the hope, anyway. TTYL.
The Whitworth Writing Rally takes place on Saturday, Nov. 8, at 8:30 am and 11 am with author David Shannon (No, David!) at Whitworth University's Cowles Auditorium, 300 W. Hawthorne Rd. Tickets: $17. Visit www.thewritingrally.org or call 777-3263.