Writopia: an English teacher's dream?

In literature, Utopias are entirely bogus, their name meaning “no place.” Did you spend time at Walden 2? You won’t find it on any map.

But utopias are useful fictive models of human societies organized along better rules than those prevailing. “Wouldn’t the world be improved,” they ask, “if these particular ways were changed?” A utopian vision shows what people could gain if their societies were organized around certain values.

One view of an education’s function, from a constructivist perspective, is that the educated learner engages him/herself in self-educating for the rest of his/her life. Writ-opia, a site whose name invites comparisons to literacy learning perfection, is a reality on the web, a site where teens help each other to become better writers. Learning is facilitated by each other learner in the social learning network. It happens away from teachers, classrooms, test scores and grades. Learners themselves construct knowledge, and educators have nothing to do with it.
Their mission:

Our students enter at different levels… and leave with at least one piece of polished, original prose!

At this site, real teens 9-19 share real writing, and collaboratively read, respond, and help edit each other’s writing. Based on this heart-wrenching memoir of gang violence, such collaborative, learner-centered learning is working–and it’s no utopia!

What’s that? The skeptic of web 2.0 wants to know how this is any different from the peer editing that is already happening in school classrooms?

Yes, it is still peer editing. Only here, they have the potential of 2 billion people on the internet helping out, not the two dozen or so they can find in traditional writing classrooms.

UPDATE: Rebecca Wallace-Segall, Executive Director of NYC-based Writopia, offers this additional information on the way collaboration works with them:

…all of our workshops are, indeed, led by mentors. Our teachers are all published writers or authors. Even those who work work with 9-year-olds must at least hold an MFA. Our workshops are galvanized by peer editing–which is guided by professional writers who serve as the kids’ mentors. Nothing gets published on our blog or in our anthologies or submitted to competitions that hasn’t been obsessively revised by our writers after months of feedback from both peers and and mentors.

Wow. Urban kids with professional writers/mentors? No, that wasn’t happening in the analog age.

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