• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

The Power of the Pen

Thirty-five 6th graders shuffled into the room and sat in groups of seven as directed. They gathered in this big school cafeteria-sized room to participate in a one day writing workshop, Power of the Pen, and had ridden busses from the five Putnam County Middle Schools to a meeting place new to them.

            To participate, each student had written a short story based on a prompt: As you’re paying for your groceries, you mention to the clerk, that there’s a mess in aisle 16. They give you a puzzled look and reply, “There is no aisle 16.”  The students’ stories covered every genre from science fiction to mystery to humor to fantasy. 

            I had been invited to be one of five authors to share the day with these students.  We were a varied group: a published novelist, a poet and short story writer, a songwriter, a motivational and inspirational writer, and newspaper columnist.  The students, in their small groups, met with each author and our task was to encourage these young writers.

            A day away from school might be enough to make students smile, but these are 11 and 12-year-olds who aren’t prone to look happy.  I remember these students well from the years I taught 6th grade.  Each morning, I stood at my classroom door to welcome them and they would walk past me, not even acknowledging my greeting, but the next day they crawled under my arm for a hug.  Like two-year-old toddlers, they want to be independent and need assurances.  They need to know that what they say is heard and accepted.

            During the thirty minutes I met with each group, we imagined that we were in charge.  We read Judith Viorst’s poem, ‘If I Were in Charge of the World.’   According to her writing, Ms. Viorst would cancel oatmeal and Monday mornings.  She wanted healthier hamsters and basketball baskets forty-eight inches lower. She wouldn’t have lonely or clean or bedtimes.  A chocolate sundae would be a vegetable and a person who forgot to flush would still be allowed to be in charge of the world. 

            The students wrote their versions of this poem. I won’t share all their writings, and I vowed not to name names.

            They cancelled tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, raisins, and any cookie with oatmeal. War, fighting and hunger would be eliminated.  All children would be safe.  Everyone would be kind, follow rules, and there would be peace everywhere. Cancer would be wiped out.   

            A double-stuffed Oreo cookie would be a vegetable. Chocolate would be medicine.  Reading would be exercise.

            One student looked to the classroom teacher who accompanied his group.  “Can I say something…” he hesitated, but continued when she encouraged him, “something religious?”  The teacher nodded. “If I were in charge of the world, all people would pray and trust their God.”  

            At the end of the workshop, everyone waved good bye, most students smiled, and we all wore gray tee shirts with the words Power of the Pen.  These children had shared their written words.  That is powerful.